It looked like a student ‘sit-in’ that we used to have at university. A big crowd of mainly young people had placed themselves cross-legged on the floor, leaving a small space in the middle for a microphone stand, guitar and percussion.
But the punters weren’t protesting. They were chatting and smiling, as if waiting for friends to arrive and maybe sing a tune or share a story. My mate Stuart and I made our way through this happy throng, to grab some comfy chairs at the back.
Just behind and to the side of me was a religious icon and a statue of Mary and Jesus. A little bit further away was a striking scene of angels bowing before Christ. The effect was stunning. This is a place designed for adoration.
We had come to the launch day of St Peter’s – the so-called ‘Brighton Cathedral’. Along with the Pavilion and the Pier, this grand old building dominates the cityscape. And now it’s shaking to the sound of an emerging new worshipping community.
Leader Archie Coates – looking more like a surfer than a vicar – calls this their ‘great adventure’. He wants the church to be ‘the most welcoming place in Brighton’ and to ‘make a difference’ in this town – where trendy seaside bars hide deep social needs.
Archie had watched helplessly when the emergency services came for the body of a young drug addict recently. ‘Somebody dies of heroin overdose in Brighton every nine or ten days,’ he explained. ‘Here, one died on my doorstep – and I didn’t know what to do about it.’
They’re planning partnerships with churches and charities to respond to such deprivation. They aim to see ‘the homeless housed, the lonely loved, relationships restored, this place done up and the power and the love of Jesus everywhere’.
Big talk. But it appears Archie doesn’t deal in words alone. He’s already met with the local police chief, hosted a BBC crew and welcomed leaders from other denominations. ‘We have a vision…but we don’t have a roadmap,’ he admitted.
There was the usual format for a contemporary Anglican congregation - a time of singing songs, with prayers, preaching and a personal story in the mix. After all, this is a ‘plant’ from the internationally known Holy Trinity Brompton in London.
A young girl led the prayers, thanking God for ‘reopening the doors’. A guy called David told of how joining Alpha – an introductory course to Christian beliefs – had totally transformed his life. ‘I found myself again,’ he said.
But the setting, the sense of hospitality and the smiles of the people just might be the early signs of something fresh for the city of Brighton and Hove. The mere presence of a few hundred worshippers in this ‘cathedral’ is already making an impact.
Straight after the service, a man told me, with tears, how he had prayed for years to see this church reborn. Archie and his team want that for the rest of the city, too. Let’s hope their dreams come true.