My next stop was inspired by my willing helper who actually suggested that it should be on our list. It was somewhere we had both heard of (although my willing helper did seem to know a lot more than me) and quickly made its way onto our Sunday morning rota.
St Luke’s Prestonville is a traditional old brick-style Church building set on the edge of where the suburbs becomes the city. If you have ever been to Brighton it is within walking distance of both BHASVIC Sixth Form College and Seven Dials (if you haven’t been then make a special trip along to Sam’s of Seven Dials for a very yummy breakfast, lunch or dinner: http://www.sevendialsrestaurant.co.uk/) and easily accessible by car, bus, foot, train and bike. Ticks all those boxes nicely.
We arrived in good time and met with a smile and, in my companion’s case, a notice/service sheet (obviously expecting a lot of others) and had a look around. The traditional layout of the Church had been kept but the grey, drab walls had been painted a shade of something like turquoise lifting the whole space and changing the otherwise potentially staid feel. The altar rails had been removed opening up the space to the rest of the Church but the old, dark wood altar chairs had been left at the top of the altar. Beside them were four large crosses resting on the floor. Each cross was painted in a vivid colour and adorned with many full-size plain white light bulbs each of which was lit and blazing with light. I thought this sort of thing had disappeared in the 1970s but here at St Luke’s it just added to the eclectic and slightly bohemian feel.
The seats, not pews, were laid out in two semi-circles facing each other with the altar tables in-between together with a smaller table which was laid out with various sizes of candles (for a specific creative act of prayer, not a normal practice). At one end was the entrance to the rows of seats and one was the space for the worship leader. We took our seats in the second row and took in the peace and quiet of the place.
The Vicar made time to pop over and greet us – a nice touch and something that had not yet happened anywhere else we’d been – until he was called away by an unplanned sound-desk feedback event.
The service started with worshipping through song ably led by the guitar-holding worship leader and his team of backing singers, keyboard and percussion. These were a good mix of songs and the reasonable, but small, congregation did them all justice.
The message, delivered by another person, was quite good. Not as challenging as I would have liked but still thought-provoking (although I admit I did drift off in my thoughts part way through it). We were treated to a slightly bizarre moment of watching the end of a U2 concert as they sung a psalm (linked to the sermon as the message was on being light in the world, perhaps the reason for the garish crosses, and they were ostensibly sharing their faith with their fans by singing this psalm (although I couldn’t link their song to the words of the supposed psalm at all) and I’m sure great if you happen to love U2) and I started to lose the plot a little at that point.
The vicar did well in keeping the few children there occupied with an exercise in needing light to see the way and leading the prayers along the theme of light by lighting candles for those we prayed for.
Communion was one of those “join the queue, take bread, move along the line, take wine and return to your seat” affairs but fairly well done and not as rushed as some. The music was gentle at this point and not at all intrusive. I still struggled to eat my bit of bread fast enough before needing to swig from the communal cup which is always a little awkward. Should you stand there chewing and waiting until its gone or go for it with crumbs swilling around (pr worse, a great chunk of bread)? Thankfully I accidentally ended up in front of the non-alcoholic cup (nice touch for those who would otherwise have a problem with wine for whatever reason, and very welcome for me from my Methodist background) and only shared it with one little girl, so not so many “crumb” issues.
There was time to reflect after taking communion which was welcome and the service was nicely wrapped up with a blessing. Afterwards there was coffee and tea available in the main Church space – a good idea as it encouraged people to stay. We got chatting to one of the congregation who was honest and open about the Church life and opportunities for home groups, ages (which pretty much sealed the deal that it would not be a permanent place of worship for me) and a welcome face at the end of the service.
I’m not sure we will return in a hurry but the mix of old and new was tastefully and interestingly done and the message is, of course, timeless. I have a feeling St Luke’s will still be with us over the years to come.