My third visit in my pilgrimage season was made to a well-established modern Church which founded (I believe) the New Frontiers movement.
Church of Christ the King began its life in the 1970s as flower-power gave way to glam rock. From small acorns great oaks grow and it now operates three sites: the original New England Street site, Shoreham and now the Brighton racecourse. It was the New England site that I made my way to on a bright, sunny morning. You know, the kind of morning when you may be tempted to worship alone outside rather than join with others…I’m sure you have no idea what I mean.
I had been there before many years earlier and my expectations were probably set fairly low as a result of that experience. This may have been unfair. I am not the person now that I was back then (thankfully) so who knows what the reason was for my distrust and dislike. In any event I was back. Maybe in part as I felt bad for leaving them off pilgrimage two year’s earlier.
This time I was greeted very warmly at the door by a specialist team of “greeters” all dressed in t-shirts making that suitably clear. Despite the potentially OTT conference–style welcome it was actually genuinely friendly and made everything really clear and straightforward. This could have been a bit messy without them as the main hall area is up the stairs immediately opposite the entrance and there are lots of rooms on the ground floor. The thing to do seemed to be to get a coffee from the coffee bar area downstairs then take a chair and chat before heading upstairs around 10.20am. So I followed suit and was quickly welcomed by one of the senior leaders. Nice touch. Again, this was sincere but not overpowering. My sort of thing.
Out of curiosity I headed upstairs early, before the coffee crowd, and was again directed easily up another flight of stairs to the main hall. The hall is essentially a transformed warehouse space with a stage in the centre with rows of seating both on the floor and tiered in front and to the sides. The seats are sort of soft benches on the tiers making it easy for a few or lots of people to squeeze in together. I took a seat at the top of the raked section on an aisle so I had a clear view.
It was quite quiet apart from a few kids letting off some steam and I loved being able to look out through the windows either side of the stage onto the city beyond. Those few moments were precious and gave me time to reflect and say a quiet prayer before the hordes piled in and the service began.
Now to compare and contrast, as my essays used to request, with my other experiences. We kicked off with music and it was loud, but not excessive. My ear drums were not exploding in pain nor was it staid and old. A nice mix of keyboard, guitar and drums with clear but no overpowering vocals. Enough to be led and encouraged but not so much that you couldn’t worship in your way too. The songs were a good mix of traditional hymns and songs with modern ones and not over-repetitive so I never felt that it was all about having an emotive experience. It wasn’t. This was a place full of people genuinely and openly worshipping in their own way as individuals yet together en masse. Some raised hands, some clapped, some swayed, some stood still, some sat, some stood…all things at all times recognising that God made each of us as individuals. This, I liked. Especially in somewhere like Brighton.
The message/sermon was strong, challenging and long enough without feeling that it was just going on for no reason. I can still tell you now that the key word for me was to live as an ambassador for Jesus out in the world. Do as He did. Good message. Very few sermons leave me with a real message to take away. This one succeeded. And I remembered the essence of it.
Communion was unusual but I appreciated the lack of alcohol in the “wine”. With so many people there were stations set up around the room with a plate of flatbread and a bowl of “wine” and each person queued slowly while worship music played (and we sang along) then took bread and dipped it into the bowl before eating it or returning to your seat to eat. I found this incredibly helpful as it avoided the rushing feeling often associated with communion when you have to walk up, eat, drink then get back to your seat pronto. I had time again to reflect before eating, then join in the praise once I was ready.
There were people ready to pray with anyone who felt in need of it and other Church activities were publicised on a screen during the collection (and guests made to feel there was no requirement or expectation to give). I liked the flexibility that people could come and go freely during the service and amazed at the mix of races and cultures present in the one place.
All in all I came away spiritually refreshed, revitalised, encouraged and renewed. This was one place where I felt my spiritual life had taken a step forward and I walked away with a message in my heart to live by for the week. I felt able to go out into the world as we have been called to do and to trust God with the details. For me, CCK (as it is affectionately known) had got it right.
I can even confirm that this was no fluke as I had a similar experience two weeks later when I decided to return to spur on my summer pilgrimage with extra refreshment. I was not let down. And I may return…