Salute the happy mornI was in my teenage years when my father retired after 22 years service in the Royal Navy. I say he retired, but in fact he retired only from the Navy; he was still a comparatively young man - well, in his 40s - and needed to continue earning a living - there were a wife and two teenage boys to support. The job he found involved moving the family from the Medway towns in Kent to the Sussex coast area as Dad, although having to travel all over Sussex, would be working out of an office in Hove. He found a suitable house in Hangleton, a suburb of Hove which in those days was still out on the South Downs. Although we had not for many years been regular church-goers, we soon started attending St Helen's church, about half a mile from our house.
Whereon the Saviour of the world was born.
Rise to adore the mystery of love
Which hosts of angels chanted from above.
In those days, more than 50 years ago, St Helen's stood almost isolated amid fields. To the west - fields. To the north - another field and then a farm. To the east - another field, but with a footpath running along the side from the main built-up part of Hangleton. To the south - a large, triangular patch of grass - St Helen's park. The made-up road from the south ended at the church, after which it was a heavily-rutted farm track. Now, of course, all the fields have been built on, although the park is still an open space. But the dewpond which used to be just outside the churchyard has been filled in.
St Helen's is the oldest building in the city of Brighton & Hove, dating from the later part of the 11th century with some parts being of Saxon origin. The village it served was practically obliterated by the Black Death of the 14th century so the church escaped the attentions of the Victorian "restorers" and remains still much as it was in earlier centuries.
One of my most vivid Christmas memories is of my family returning from midnight mass along the footpath heartily singing, "Christians, awake!"
In the picture you can see, on the left, traces of a medieval wall painting. The floor of the aisle slopes downhill from the chancel towards the back of the church. A small church, seating 80 maximum. Quite plain, but to my mind all the more beautiful for that.
I do hope you have a happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.