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2071: Holy Cross, North Bersted, Bognor Regis, West Sussex, England
Holy Cross, North Bersted, Bognor Regis, England
Mystery Worshipper: Teutonic Knight.
The church: Holy Cross, North Bersted, Bognor Regis, West Sussex, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Chichester.
The building: Holy Cross had its beginnings in 1880 when a thatched cottage, formerly a blacksmith's, was licensed for divine services. In 1894 a mission hall replaced this cottage; the hall survives as the present day nave. A chancel was added in 1930 and enlarged in 1973. The building has triple lancets along the sides and four on the west wall above a low narthex. The interior is plain save for the long side windows under the eaves divided by mullions into narrow pastel-coloured lights. On the windowless east wall hangs a rather interesting modern cross. The fittings date from 1971, save the font, which is said to come from a pre-1894 mission hall.
The church: They seem to be quite active with social events. A harvest festival is scheduled for early October, along with blessing of animals. July saw a mini-market and garden party. The church hall is made available to rent for parties and meetings. Two eucharists are celebrated Sunday mornings, with an informal family service held in the afternoon. Morning prayer and eucharist take place during the week.
The neighbourhood: Bognor Regis is a seaside resort town on England's south coast. Originally known as Bognor, it was renamed by King George V when he underwent a rest cure there in 1929. Although the fresh sea air was beneficial to His Majesty's health, he is said to have uttered some rather unkind words about the place as he lay dying. Bognor Regis has a long beach which, in line with the coastal defence scheme, is now sadly completely covered with shingle except at low tide. There is also a pier and the usual attractions of a seaside resort. The church's main claim to fame is probably its proximity to Bognor's legendary landmark "the pink pub at the double mini-roundabout", a/k/a the Royal Oak.
The cast: The Revd Ann Clarke, priest-in-charge.
The date & time: Holy Cross Sunday, 12 September 2010, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Sung Eucharist.

How full was the building?
about two-thirds full (60 people at a guess). Funnily, the north half of the building was a lot fuller than the south. There were a couple of (crying) babes in arms, a toddler, two or three children, and all of seven men!

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The welcoming party had stationed themselves in such a way that you had to turn around to face them as you entered through the narthex. I've had better welcomes. However, this was outweighed by the fact that the priest-in-charge immediately spotted the "one or two faces I do not know" during her pre-service welcome talk, and an exchange of very friendly handshakes and personal words during the peace.

Was your pew comfortable?
Padded chairs with armrests and hassocks underneath: squashy, comfortable, and amazingly not squeaky (they usually are!).

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was loud, vibrant and happy chatter. The organ played a few quiet pieces that seemed to have neither beginning nor end and sounded a bit like the organist could not decide what to play. Scores of candles were set out along the window sills and a Taizé cross was placed in front of the altar in honour of the day, which was feast of title for this church.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome on this 12th of September" followed by an ad hoc prayer to collect our thoughts. Mrs Clarke was not attired in full regalia for this. The cast then assembled at the west end and processed in.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New (Anglican Edition), a service sheet for the eucharist, and a sheet with the readings for the day and the usual notices.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and a (very) small choir, and a guitar right at the end for a birthday song.

Did anything distract you?
A bus or lorry rumbling past, an ambulance with blaring siren passing by (more on this later). The blinding bright sunlight streaming in through the coloured south windows hitting my pew and hymn book. People in front of me actually turned sideways to avoid this glare. It possibly explained the uneven occupation pattern of seats.

Holy Cross, North Bersted, Bognor Regis, England

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Relaxed and friendly, almost chummy. There was a sitting room atmosphere during the sermon, which was told like a story by the fireside. I found it highly amusing to hear this style of worship described as "very Catholic" a few days later during an ecumenical gathering in the area.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
13 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The priest-in-charge spoke without notes, reiterating the readings in an explanatory way that never got boring, though sometimes a bit rambling. She was clearly enjoying herself as she delved into childhood memories of snake-hunting.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The readings had been especially selected for the feast of title: Numbers 21:4-9 (God commands Moses to lift up a bronze snake on a pole); Philippians 2:6-11 (Christ humbled himself to die on a cross, and so God exalted him); and John 3:13-17 (just as Moses lifted up the snake, so must Christ be lifted up). Something that has the power to kill (snakes and the cross) also has the power to heal; indeed , these are necessary for healing. The ancient Roman symbol of the caduceus (snakes wound round a rod) has been adopted by the medical profession and is found on ambulances (said just as the ambulance passed by outside with siren blaring). The symbol of the crucifix is not the same as the symbol of the cross. The crucifix (with the body of Christ affixed thereto) reminds us of Christ's suffering and death for our salvation; the cross (without Christ's body) reminds us of his glorious resurrection, of healing. Never be ashamed of confessing your faith, be it by wearing outward symbols or not.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The moment during the sermon when I recognised that the modern piece of artwork on the eastern wall (which I initially found merely irritating and quite ugly) was meant to symbolise a crown of thorns super-imposed on the cross. It grew on me.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The incessant chatter during the anthem and post communion hymn by someone at the back of the church.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No time to look lost, as I was immediately invited for coffee by three different people before I had even risen from my seat. Sadly I could not stay.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
As mentioned, I couldn't stay to experience it.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – My first experience of a woman presiding at the eucharist in my diocese. That alone is well worth a second visit, but their choir is much too small.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not particularly as it reminded me that suffering is "necessary" and to be embraced.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The ambulance going by during the "serpent on the pole" talk.
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