Mystery Worshipper: Solly
Church: St Peter's
Location: Brighton, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 21 February 2010, 6:00pm
A beautiful old church in the Gothic Revival style, a traditional Anglican church, dating from 1824. The architect was Charles Barry, best known for his role in the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament during the mid 19th century. The outside is done in grey stone and stands out as a landmark. Inside, there are intricately painted vaulted ceilings, stone carvings, and huge stained glass windows. Good acoustics. This evening's service was held in a large room separate from the main body of the church.
St Peter's was made redundant in December 2007, but has been revitalised as a church plant from Holy Trinity Brompton, London. They sponsor groups which they call "teams" for welcoming, children's activities, building upkeep, and community outreaches. There are three services each Sunday, one traditional holy communion and the other two "informal with café" (quoting from their website).
Brighton, whose official name is the city of Brighton and Hove, is situated on the English Channel south of London. Not so long ago a seedy has-been resort with crumbling piers and weathered hotels, today's Brighton is chic and exciting, with excellent accommodations, upscale shopping, and a thriving nightlife. St Peter's is situated in the middle of a huge traffic island on the road from London to Brighton. There's a handy bus stop right outside the church.
The Revd Archie Coates, vicar, and the Revd Johnny Gumbel, curate.
What was the name of the service?"The Six." They call their 10.00am informal service with café "The Ten."
How full was the building?
Very full. I estimate 120 plus people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A bloke at the door said, "Welcome! Come in!" I don't think he was an official welcomer, though. The vicar spotted me as a newcomer and came over to welcome me. A very gracious lady chatted with me for some time. But the vast majority of the congregation ignored me, both pre- and post-service!
Was your pew comfortable?
No pews – little cushions on the floor instead. This gave a nice informal atmosphere, but it did lead to cramping!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Gossipy café style. There was quite a loud echo with so many people and lots of friends meeting up.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"OK, shall we stand? Hello everyone. I'm Archie the vicar."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Overhead projector for liturgy and song words. The Holy Bible, New International Version was also available.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, two electronically amplified violins, guitar, drums, and a vocalist.
Did anything distract you?
Very bright lights. Also lots of glaring red heat lamps all over as they tried valiantly to heat the place! The cold was kept at bay quite well but there were still drafts. I wasn't prepared for the collection, which took place before the service had started.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Happy clappy with violin refinement. Contemporary songs like "Blessed Be Your Name" played by young people on a fairly loud electric-acoustic set-up with amped violins.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The congregation were sitting in a big circle around the vicar, so, he had to spin around every few sentences to address different people. It was unobtrusively done, though. Overall not much technique visible, which is always a good sign. But the back of the service sheet had sentences to fill in based on what we heard in the sermon, e.g. "Do the r_____ t_____" (right thing). I though this was rather patronising for an adult congregation!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
What is the point of Lent? Recent government polls asked if this country is on track. It's a good question to ask about our lives and our church. Jesus came away from the temptation in the desert with inspired, compassionate and ambitious goals. Through his Spirit we, too, can do the right things, in the right way, for the right reasons.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The informality of it all, with good musicians to boot. The violins were fabulous! The sermon was well structured and clear, and I found it personally inspiring. The communion song was "Love So Wonderful," which was very beautiful and conducive to meditation.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Being ignored by the vast majority of the congregation!. And the communion wine – was it wine? Very weird taste!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I stood around for the obligatory five minutes while everyone cheerfully ignored me! Then I spotted a girl who'd prayed with me in the service and she introduced me to three or four people for a very nice chat.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fair trade filter coffee, decaf coffee, tea, peppermint tea, fruit smoothies, large squares of chocolate cake and carrot cake were all on offer both before and after the service. Suggested donation of 50p per item. Coffee was hot and served in sturdy paper cups like those you'd find in commercial coffee shops.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I'd like to come to this service again and fit it in with attendance at my own church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much. It was inspiring and sent me out with lots to think about and a feeling of joy in Christ.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The friendliness of those few who did talk to me.