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|1580: St John
the Baptist, Hove, East Sussex, England
John the Baptist, Hove, East Sussex, England.
Church of England, Diocese
A large 150-year-old Gothic church with a lush garden to one
side. The church spire is a major landmark in Hove. A portion
of the building has been converted to a community centre –
indeed, as one approaches the building from the west, a sign
reading Cornerstone Community Centre gives the impression that
this is a "former" church. However, a portion has
been kept consecrated for worship, with an entrance door on
the northeast corner near the tower. Internally, the worship
space is a smallish cruciform square with the altar in the centre.
The organ and sanctuary fill the eastern transept, and there
are banks of five pine pews in each of the north, west and south
arms of the cross. The communion rail follows that pattern,
surrounding the central altar on all three sides. It is definitely
different from the ordinary aisle arrangement. It's a bright
space and everyone is facing the middle.
This is a busy, vibrant hub of the community. More than half
of the physical building has been given over to community projects
and events. There is everything from social work to aerobics,
yoga to film study, child care to weight-loss groups, and a
cafe evidently catering to people with nothing to do and nowhere
to do it. There is one sort of activity or another scheduled
for weeknights, ranging from a curry club that meets at a local
tandoori restaurant to consider "life, the universe, and
everything in the process," to a singing society and a
film club. A quiet traditional eucharist plus a sung eucharist
using Common Worship are celebrated each Sunday, along
with holy communion according to the 1662 Book of Common
Prayer on Wednesdays. A healing service and Celtic communion
are held on alternating Thursdays.
Hove is on England's south coast, near Brighton, and together
with its larger neighbour forms the borough of Brighton and
Hove. In 2000, Her Majesty the Queen granted the borough city
status despite the absence of a cathedral. Of the two municipalities,
Hove is by far the more genteel. Its seafront is adorned with
hundreds of simple wooden beach huts, in contrast to the amusements
and games and pools and piers of busy, bustling Brighton. St
John the Baptist serves a small parish consisting mainly of
the fashionable avenues of Hove, which run from the seafront
to the busy main road. These are five broad mid-Victorian residential
streets, originally home to the wealthy whose servants lived
elsewhere in the town. Today it's a high-density residential
area, with most of the grand homes having been converted to
multiple occupancy. Whether the residents attend the church
or visit the community centre, or only know it as a landmark,
very few people in the area would be unaware of St Johns.
The Revd Paul Doick, curate.
The date & time:
Second Sunday after Trinity, 1 June 2008, 10.30am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Fairly full. There were people in all of the pews, but no one
was crowded together. I'd guess there were 60 or 70 souls in
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed at the door by a woman who handed me the hymnbook
and service sheets. A few steps further on, another woman checked
that I had everything and also welcomed me.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews all had long runners of pale pink carpet along them,
and they were perfectly comfortable, thank you.
How would you describe the pre-service
Lots of chatter and gossip and friendly waving. Then suddenly
the celebrant materialised, and everyone stopped talking and
scrambled to their feet. He didn't process, he just appeared,
genuflected and walked around the altar in the middle of the
cruciform space, to stand behind it facing the people in the
west bank of pews.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning and welcome. Please do be seated." (And
then he launched immediately into the notices before the service.)
What books did the congregation use during the
Hymns Old and New, New Anglican Edition. There was
a service booklet (Common Worship) and a weekly pew
sheet on which the Bible readings were printed. It didn't say,
but they seemed to be New International Version.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ – a big one, with huge pipes looming over the pews to
the north of the altar. It appeared modern to me.
Did anything distract you?
The most distracting thing was my own self-consciousness, as
this is my first report and I felt a bit conspicuous, knowing
nobody and trying to catch all the detail and not wanting to
be caught writing! In other distractions, during the sermon
a tiny baby just barely whimpered and its mother took it out.
During the eucharistic prayer a couple of little girls ran quite
wild for what felt like several minutes before their parents
reined them in and separated them.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
No clapping, but definitely not stiff. Comfortable, relaxed
and well-behaved. I would say it cut right down the middle of
the middle. The priest was properly vested in green, but there
were no servers or attendants, except two lay assistants for
distributing the communion wine. The priest carried the gospel
book up to the pulpit quite reverently and read the gospel from
there, after which he launched straight into the sermon. There
was some moving around during the peace, but not excessive.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
8 The curate was well spoken and held one's attention.
His sermon was creative, memorable, well structured, and quite
entertaining. He pitched it well to a congregation of all ages.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
It was about obedience to God's will. He talked about the film
Evan Almighty, based on the Noah story, which he used
to illustrate our busyness and other avoidance tactics. He then
tied it neatly to the gospel reading, which was from Matthew,
the last bit of the Sermon on the Mount. In the end it came
down to prayer being the transforming power in our relationship
with God. He managed to get Bonhoeffer in there too somehow.
Maybe I should raise that to a 9 out of 10!
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
During communion, the organist played Pachelbel's Canon
in D very nicely. Call me sentimental, but I love that.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
The lack of a choir. I thought it might just be a half-term
absence, but there is nowhere to put one. One of the hymns was
a modern one ("Be still for the presence of the Lord")
and the congregation managed that, but the other three were
wavery and quavery and not fun.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
A woman approached me and was quite chatty and welcoming. The
priest was at the door shaking hands, and he was also very open
and friendly. He invited me to stay for coffee.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
Very good coffee served in the community centre part of the
building. It was in glass mugs, fresh and hot and strong. Astonishing.
I couldn't see whether or not it was fair trade but I would
be surprised if it wasn't.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 It was pleasant and it did the job, but I do prefer
to have a choir.
Did the service make you
feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It is a living, loving, happy congregation and I felt accepted
What one thing will you
remember about all this in seven days' time?
The unusual layout of the space.
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