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Southover Church, Lewes, East Sussex, England
Photo: Simon Carey
|Mystery Worshipper: Haveuheardthemessage.
The church: Southover
Church, Lewes, East Sussex, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Chichester.
The building: A light and airy building of medieval foundation with the most
beautifully coloured windows I've seen in some time. The
Gundrada Chapel was built in 1847 after the excavation
of the site of Lewes Priory during the building of the
Brighton to Lewes Railway, when the remains of William
de Warenne and his wife Gundrada were found in small leaden
caskets. The church has recently undergone some re-ordering. Many original
features remain, but the choir pews have been removed
in favour of chairs, two large screens suspended from
the ceiling, and new meeting
rooms built on in the last year or so.
The church: The medieval church originated as a hospitium or guest house.
By 1320 the chapel had become a church, and by 1374 it
is precisely described as the parish church of St John. The
website emphasises the modern congregation's commitment
to being at the heart of the community, forward-thinking
and outward reaching.
The neighbourhood: Lewes is a beautiful and historical town and the county
town of east Sussex. It is best known for its bonfire
celebrations, and also, of course, for having its own
currency. The town is fortunate to make its own beer as
well, at the local brewery, Harvey's. The
immediate streets around the church are picture-perfect,
with lovely cobbled streets, and well-kept public
gardens, The Grange, just two minutes' walk from the church.
The cast: Communion was celebrated by the Revd Jeremy Bamber (apparently
a visiting clergyman). The preacher was Ken Bridger.
The date & time: 15 August 2010, 10.30am.
What was the name
of the service?
Holy Communion at Southover.
How full was the
Right up until the last minute the building only appeared
half-full, but when I next turned round, the building
was pretty much full, with at least four or five people
on each pew. I'd guess attendance was around the 175 mark.
There were not many youngsters. It seems about 40+ of
the children were at "Soul Survivor". They were mainly
elderly people, with a handful of young families. Most
people appeared middle class, well-dressed and well-spoken.
Did anyone welcome
I was greeted at the main entrance by two lovely bubbly
ladies, who immediatley realised we were visiting, and
made us feel most welcome. We went through the second
doors into the main building and were handed our service
sheets, but the gentleman did not speak, just smiled!
The ladies at the door introduced us to the celebrant,
which was nice, and he did pop back and talk to us about
the children's work. We were left in the hands of Ron
Hammond, the churchwarden, who told us about the Sunday
Was your pew comfortable?
After the re-ordering they have left the congregational
pews in place, which had nice embroidered kneelers, and
a carpet runner as some form of padding. I was left with
a somewhat strange itchy/numb rear end!
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
Most people were just hanging around chatting. The choir
were practising up front, which was nice. Eveybody seemed
rather busy, there was a lot of hustle and bustle, and
even the celebrant was running around doing last-minute
What were the exact
opening words of the service?
There was teething problems with the sound system for
the first few moments, but I just made out "Good morning,
everyone, nice to see you all here!" Mr Bamber then went
on to give a personal welcome to visitors, including us.
What books did the
congregation use during the service?
The communion service was on a printed sheet, and the
order of service, readings and hymns were printed on another.
The service was also displayed on the screens. Reference
was made to pew Bibles, where there was also to hand a
pad of paper and pens. Brilliant idea!
What musical instruments
Just the pipe organ, played well. For all the hymns the
choir were unrobed and stood facing the congregation.
Did anything distract
Right in the middle of the intercessions the urn came
to the boil and started to rattle. Such a silly thing
to remember, but it was so quiet during the prayers that
it sounded like the urn was about to take off!
Was the worship
stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The communion had been simplified, missing out the Gloria
etc. I admit this gave the service a more contemporary
feel, and would have made it less daunting for a newcomer.
The first two hymns weren't well-known to me, although
the congregation sang heartily: I am guessing they were
Ancient and Modern, certainly not Mission
Praise or Songs of Worship songs. The singing
was pretty stiff-upper-lip, with no chance of any clapping
or arm raising. When the children were ushered out after
the first hymn, the choir stood up the front and sang,
which I thought was a nice touch. The choir – mainly
older people, and both men and women – were clearly
well-practised and sounded great. During the last hymn
I strangely found myself feeling a little tearful
and was fighting the urge to lift my arms. It was only
on the last verse that out of the corner of my eye I spotted
a man raising his arm. (It turned out he was the rector,
who had just returned from taking another service.) I
wish I'd seen him earlier, as I would have relaxed and
gone with the flow.
Exactly how long
was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
7 – The preacher appeared to be sticking rigidly to his
notes, glancing at them every couple of seconds. But he
was well-spoken, and easy to listen to, with a clear voice
and nice manner.
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
The theme for the service was "fearless for Christ", and
the sermon followed from that. The preacher spoke to us
about standing firm in the faith, speaking out, taking
risks, and shining the light of Jesus. An emphasis was
put on Southover Church as a whole, going into the community
to spread the gospel. There was a real encouraging undertone
to the message, and I really felt that there was a genuine
commitment from the people of the church to carry the
good news to the wider community.
Which part of the
service was like being in heaven?
Many things put a smile on my face during the service.
It was easy to follow, and I found the order of service
helpful. Mr Bamber invited us up for communion with the
words "This is not MY invitation, it is JESUS' invitation,
so if you are in a relationship with Jesus, please come
forward!" I just thought that was so well said and open.
Also, my baby was a real handful during the service, quite
noisy, and insisting on slapping me and pulling my hair.
I sat waiting for a glare or a tut, but instead, I got
smiles, and certain kindly looks of "We understand, don't
worry." I was made to feel very comfortable, despite my
little one's attempt to destroy the building. Finally,
the moment of bliss arrived as the choir stepped into
the Gunrada Chapel to sing during the communion. Sheer
And which part was
like being in... er... the other place?
I expect the communion bread was lovingly handmade by
one of the long-standing mother's union members. It is
a shame she made it back in 2008. It was rather stale
and salty. Yuk, sorry.
What happened when
you hung around after the service looking lost?
One of the initial welcomer ladies came to chat, and we
spoke for some time. Apart from that there was little
contact initiated from any of the congregation. It was
I who started the two other conversations. But it was
really busy, and quite crowded, so I may have been lost
in the crowd.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
Mmmm, real coffee, although lukewarm and gulped in two
mouthfuls. It tasted great nonetheless. But my husband's
tea looked like dish water. The biscuit selection was
bog standard, so nothing special.
How would you feel
about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic,
0 = terminal)?
8 – It is clear that this is a church which is growing
and moving forward, with a big heart for the community
and a commitment to sharing the love of our Lord... I
have recently come away from the Church of England after
33 years, but if this church were in my town, I'd be back
like a shot.
Did the service
make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Oh yes! There was just a nice vibe. It seems that the
new(ish) incumbent has had some pretty big boots to fill,
as the last chap was there for many years. It seems to
me he is doing a jolly good job, and bringing the people
forward in their journeys with Christ. I would be very
interested to go to the informal worship one evening and
see what they are doing for the "younger ones".
What one thing will
you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Goosebumpy, spine-tingling feeling during communion as
the choir sang.
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