The building was started in 1895 by the Walker-Munro family, who were wealthy even though "in industry," as the lady put it who was telling me the story. Shunned by the "true" aristocracy, the Walker-Munros intended to erect a private chapel on the grounds of their mansion, Rhinefield House (now a hotel), but were persuaded to build it on land they owned in the village instead. The size of their "private chapel" rivals that of some cathedrals, and after several years the family decided to allow other villagers to attend as well. Money ran out in 1903 and so the church wasnt finally completed until the 1960s. It is a beautiful late-Victorian Gothic building of grey stone from Swanage, a coastal down in Dorset that was a significant quarrying port in the Victorian era. The exterior is rather ornate and features turrets. The east window is in the Decorated Gothic style of the 14th century.
The church is twinned with the original parish church of St Nicholas, the oldest church in the New Forest, which is actually right on the edge of the village. Between them they seem very busy, with outreach programmes, prayer groups, Mothers Union, various youth groups and a school. Next Sunday they will bless the new headmaster of the school, and shortly, there will be 10 young people confirmed. There was also a large play area and library at the back.
Brockenhurst is a lovely village in the picturesque New Forest in the south of England. The forest isnt that new, but was created shortly after the Norman invasion to provide hunting for the aristocracy. Now it is a national park, characterised by many animals that roam free, including ponies, donkeys, cows, pigs and deer. In fact, it is not unusual to see a cow wander through the village.
The Revd Neil Smart, vicar. Debbie Smart, the vicar's wife, preached. There was a curate, the Revd Mary Nicholson, who was officially installed at the beginning of the service.
What was the name of the service?Family Worship.
How full was the building?
Just over half full. Its quite a large church, and apparently there are more when its not the summer holidays. I'm not very good at estimating numbers, but I'd guess about 150 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. We got there early-ish and we were welcomed outside the door and again when we entered. As strangers there, we were spoken to by a number of people, including the new curate. It probably helped that we had a toddler with us.
Was your pew comfortable?
Most of the church was filled with padded chairs, but we sat at the back near the play area so that we could amuse our toddler and still take part in the service. We had a pew at the back of the church, which was perfectly acceptable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Warm and friendly but not too noisy.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Well, good morning, everybody. Welcome to St Saviour's this morning." The vicar then went on to extend his welcome to regulars, those who haven't been for a while, and visitors.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Mission Praise and a printed service sheet. Apparently they sometimes use a screen for words.
What musical instruments were played?
A piano and a flute. There was an organ in the church but it remained silent.
Did anything distract you?
My daughter, who enjoyed getting involved in the play area at the back, was demanding crayons of me, and it was somewhat distracting having to pass them back and forth to her. Admittedly this was self-inflicted.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
As a family service, the worship was pretty informal, especially the beginning (see below). There were three modern hymns and one traditional ("When I Survey The Wondrous Cross"). There was a sermon, and also a children's game of musical chairs to illustrate a point about humility, and some informal discussions for the children. The Bible reading was acted out rather than read! The other church in the parish, St Nicholas, is much more formal, using the Book of Common Prayer for most services, so I guess this gives locals a nice choice about which type of service to go to.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Debbie Smart had a relaxed if slightly school-teacher-ish style and was very clear to listen to, sharing a number of personal experiences from their time living in Africa. It was good content, and I'd have scored her higher than a 7 except that I felt she was trying to cover too much - this was really two sermons.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The subject was humility. She started off talking about the incident that has come to be known as Traingate: Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition in the UK Parliament, recently travelled by train from London to Newcastle and complained that he had to sit on the floor of his coach because all of the train's seats were either taken or reserved. "This is a problem that many passengers face every day on the trains," Corbyn said. However, Virgin Trains boss Richard Branson was able to demonstrate that Corbyn had walked through coach after coach of empty unreserved seats before indulging in his little drama, and in fact returned to one of those coaches to take a seat for the remainder of the journey. How we interact socially, Debbie said, shows our attitude to power. She helped us to think about what humility is, and said we should compare ourselves only to Christ. In the second half of the sermon, she spoke about people who have low or high self-esteem, and said that our identity and self-esteem should also only come from our identity in Christ. We should see Jesus as our role model for how to please God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Having the large play area at the back. It was perfect for keeping the children amused without them having to go out to a creche for the whole service. It meant my daughter and I could sing the hymns together, and she didn't get bored in the less fun parts of the service.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The rather odd beginning to the service! After the welcome, they formally installed the new curate, which involved reading various passages in very formal language about rules and what she was and wasn't allowed to do. This was a little tongue-in-cheek, as when this was all done the vicar said, "Well, we've ticked that box, which made the congregation chuckle. Clearly not a church that enjoys formalities!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We didn't really get a chance to look lost, as people came straight over to chat and get to know us. This struck me as a particularly welcoming church.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasnt any!! We were disappointed, but the vicar explained that there were too many regulars away during the summer holidays to keep a coffee rota going. People didn't rush off, but there were no refreshments. We went to a pub for lunch instead.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I really enjoyed the service, but I would probably investigate other local churches before making a firm decision, as I prefer a slightly meatier, more expository sermon than we got here this morning.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, definitely, in particular the friendliness of the congregation, who were really welcoming.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Children playing musical chairs in the chancel as part of the teaching!