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1589: St Barnabas, Hove, East Sussex, England
St Barnabas, Hove, East Sussex, England
Mystery Worshipper: Deputy Verger.
The church: St Barnabas, Hove, East Sussex, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Chichester.
The building: It's a mid-Victorian (1883) suburban parish church in the Decorated Gothic style, designed by the Gothic architect John Loughborough Pearson. Pearson allegedly dismissed St Barnabas, however, as "one of my cheap editions." It's quite imposing for its size, being of dark flint decorated with red brick and stone. There is a small spire above the crossing – Pearson designed it to have a bell tower, which hasn't happened yet. From the outside, the apse makes an attractive statement on the corner of a busy road. Indoors, the nave is spacious, with graceful pillars rising to the rafters. The high altar is backed by a massive gold reredos by the 19th century high Gothicist George Frederick Bodley. There are proper confessionals. There are a great many shrines with statues, flowers, and candle stands, including a flamboyant Sacred Heart of Jesus in a golden gown with a red cloak. The Virgin Mary is there, and St Joseph. St Barnabas is prominent of course, as is St Richard of Chichester. The church possesses several relics, including one of the True Cross. On the west wall is hung an enormous (10'x17') painting, possibly by the Romantic artist John Henry Fuseli, reproducing da Vinci's Last Supper. Both the painting and the reredos seem slightly too large for the space they occupy, but they are magnificent and the church is well worth visiting just to see them. Modern chandeliers seem out of place.
The church: St Barnabas is a Forward in Faith parish and is served by priests of the Society of the Holy Cross. It's at the traditional Catholic end of the worship scale. Sunday mass is celebrated, according to their website, "with full ceremonial ... appealing to all our senses." Mass is celebrated daily except Mondays, with a healing mass on Wednesdays and a Walsingham mass (said for the intention of the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham) on one Saturday each month. The Rosary is prayed on the first Saturday of the month. There is also a Sunday school, and children play active roles in the services.
The neighbourhood: The church is in a suburb of the city of Brighton and Hove known as Poet's Corner, presumably because of local streets named Shakespeare, Coleridge, Byron etc. It's very handy to Hove station (originally known as West Brighton station) on the main line to London and also convenient to the towns lying along the Sussex and Hampshire coast to the west.
The cast: The Rt Revd Roger Jupp, SSC, former bishop of Popondota in Papua New Guinea and present vicar of St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex, was celebrant and preacher. He was assisted by the Revd Deacon James Hawkey. Attending in choir were the Revd Alan Reed, SSC, vicar of St Barnabas, along with a great number of guest clergy. The vicar also read the announcements. The organist and director of music was the church's former organist, Malcolm Kemp (now at nearby Good Shepherd, Brighton), who put together a visiting choir of voices from parishes in Brighton, Hove and Worthing. It was clear that an effort had been made to involve people for whom the church is special. It was mentioned in the bulletin that the deacon, who was ordained to the priesthood shortly after this service and is now curate of St Mary's, Portsea, Hampshire, was "fostered from this parish" to his vocation.
The date & time: St Barnabas Day, Feast of Title and 125th anniversary of the consecration of the church, 11 June 2008, 7.30pm.

What was the name of the service?
Solemn Pontifical Mass.

How full was the building?
Quite full. There were not many empty seats, and not many solo worshippers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A woman handed me a nicely produced 16-page special booklet for the occasion, and a Gift-Aid envelope (Gift-Aid allows charities to increase the value of a donation by the amount of tax that the donor would have paid), but she was a bit distracted by a constant stream of guest clergy arriving and needing directions to the vestry. She didn't really notice me.

Was your pew comfortable?
They were those joined-up wooden chairs, but there was so much standing-sitting-kneeling going on that they didn't have time to get uncomfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
When I arrived I could hear the choir practicing, which was lovely, but there was so much chatting going on in the nave that I didn't notice when they stopped.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The service began with a profusion of priests, a confusion of clergy, who processed en masse to the statue of St Barnabas. There, the bishop censed the statue and intoned, "Let us pray." He then chanted a collect and prayer, after which the procession resumed. It took 15 minutes for everyone to reach the altar! The first spoken words were: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The New English Hymnal was in the pews, but everything we needed (including hymns) was contained in the special service booklet.

What musical instruments were played?
The organ.

Did anything distract you?
Two or three quite loud and somewhat out of time and off-key members of the congregation, who made the responses and the hymns a bit erratic. It was my bad luck to be sitting rather close to a couple of them.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was all smells and bells, but it wasn't stiff. There was a huge altar party but only two of them were really gloriously vested in red for the occasion (the bishop and the deacon). There was applause during the notices when the vicar thanked the music director and the choir and organist, and gave the bishop a thank-you present, but there was no clapping in the sense of this question! It was a jolly affair, and people had come from far and wide to celebrate it, but they did so to a "high" standard!

St Barnabas, Hove, East Sussex, England

Exactly how long was the sermon?
13 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The bishop spoke clearly and with authority – he was a bishop after all! He kept it simple, perhaps slightly too simple for my taste, but it was appropriate for the occasion.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He told the story of St Barnabas, a central and essential apostle though not one of the twelve. The name Barnabas means "son of encouragement" and thus he is often called St Barnabas the Encourager. St Francis of Assisi may have been thinking of Barnabas when he said, "Go out and preach the gospel. Use words if necessary." The eucharist is a great celebration of thanksgiving, and thanksgiving leads to evangelising.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Put together, the massive altar party, the smells and bells, the organ and the choir, the building so full of people on a Wednesday evening, the sense of occasion. It was the general energy of worship and praise which was really uplifting.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, I felt quite self-conscious being alone, as most people were in couples or families, and then there was the truly dire singing near me which intruded badly and made it hard to hear the choir.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
To be fair, it was a party with a lot of guests, invited and otherwise. I was not the only stranger. In other words, I was left to help myself to the refreshments. I was also left unmolested to wander round the church admiring the statues and shrines and relics, which suited me fine.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Well, it was a feast befitting a feast day and a big birthday celebration. There were tables groaning under the weight of the food which had been prepared and donated by legions of loyal parishioners. More to the point, there was wine and juice. So, no need for coffee. Besides, it was evening.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8– It was lovely, architecturally, musically, liturgically. I liked it a lot. But I can't give a 10 to a church that has no bells. Sorry.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it pushed all the right buttons for me.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sense of occasion, the heavy aura of holy smoke by the end of the service. It's so rare these days. And that amazing copy of the Last Supper.
 
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