Mystery Worshipper: Eruresto Nyell
Church: All Saints
Location: Hove, East Sussex, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 May 2011, 10:00am
The church is quite simply enormous – larger, I am told, than Derby Cathedral. Indeed, it could be mistaken for a cathedral, with its side chapel (a Spirit chapel, and emphatically not a Lady chapel) and high – very high – altar. There are at least a dozen different entrances. Stations of the cross adorn the walls. The church is the largest in the area and so is often used for civic events, being known as the "parish church of Hove".
Hove is a predominantly Anglo-Catholic area for the Church of England, and All Saints is no exception. In addition to the vicar, the church is served by four other priests and a curate, and seems to be a training ground for new clergy. They hold services of some sort every day, with a eucharist on most of these. They also support a youth group, Hove Hut.
Hove is a town on the south coast of England, immediately to the west of Brighton, with which it forms the unitary authority Brighton and Hove. The church is, fittingly enough, on New Church Road. Walking along the road, I noticed that it seems to be lined with Anglican churches as well as a United Reformed church. I am told that there is a similar road on which are located many non-conformist churches.
The Revd Philip Ritchie, vicar, presided. Preaching was the Revd Archie Coates, vicar of St Peter's, Brighton. (As pretty much the only evangelical in an otherwise Anglo-Catholic area, I noticed that during the procession at the start of the service the Revd Coates was alone in not steepling his fingers, as the rest of the processional party did.) There was also a sacristan whose name I did not catch.
What was the name of the service?Festival Eucharist (marking the opening of the otherwise very secular Brighton and Hove Festival).
How full was the building?
I think about half full, although the congregation were spread out and there was a choir, so it was hard to tell. I think the church holds about 500, so I would guess that including the choir and civic party there were 200 people present. The lord mayor of Hove, the chief constable, and various councillors had been invited to the service.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I had a very nice conversation with a churchwarden, whose name I caught but sadly don't remember.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were no pews except in the choir stalls; I am told that the church was designed with chairs instead of pews for the sake of flexibility. My chair was padded and very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a lot of chatter among people arriving, although owing to the size of the church it felt very hushed. We also stood for the entry of the civic party.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Please stand for the entry of the Lord Mayor."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The hymnbook was Common Praise (words edition), with a printed order of service. Readings were, I think, taken from The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ – as well as the 24-strong choir.
Did anything distract you?
We had sat by the corner of the church where a small crèche was held. As such we were distracted occasionally, albeit pleasantly, by the children playing.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was on the higher end of middle-of-the-road Anglican. The organ, which I am told is famous (and certainly very loud!), and choir were both in full force, with fairly traditional hymns, such as "Thine be the glory". The choir also sang The Heavens Are Telling by Haydn as a communion anthem.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The Revd Coates preached well on a topic of seasonal interest.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He spoke of living the Resurrection, and doubt. If we doubt the Resurrection, we are not alone; the disciples doubted it too, even after the risen Lord showed them his wounds. Jesus showed us that the Resurrection was true, but also that it was not simply an event. We should not just believe the Resurrection, but live it as well.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The Haydn anthem as we went up for communion was absolutely splendid.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A lot of the liturgy was sung. Unfortunately, there was no music in the service order, and it seems that the congregation were expected to know it by rote. This was not the case! I am told that the music also changes fairly regularly – not helpful.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was invited to have some nibbles, and we gravitated toward the side of the church where canapes and wine were being served in addition to the traditional tea, coffee and biscuits.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn't try the tea or coffee – though it was fair trade. I opted instead to go for the "fill your boots" method and helped myself to some canapes, which were excellent and in very great supply!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I believe this service is the norm for this congregation, although usually the Lord Mayor and chief constable worship elsewhere, or so I assume. However, the music would be a major stumbling block, and I am not Anglo-Catholic by disposition. The tone of the service had my eyes narrowing at its most extreme points.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes! This was a clear sign of the "Christian presence in every community" that the Church of England purports to be.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
"The heavens are telling the glory of God!"