An altar with a story to tell – Rev Jenny GAFFIN, the vicar of Hayling Island

Boat-builder Derek Abra shows the altar he made in his workshop to the vicar of Hayling Island, the Rev Jenny Gaffin
Boat-builder Derek Abra shows the altar he made in his workshop to the vicar of Hayling Island, the Rev Jenny Gaffin

You may need to have your sea legs when you worship at St Andrew’s in Hayling  – our altar and font are now shaped like the bow and stern of a wooden boat.

A brand new altar was created for us by local boat-builders to match the existing font, and it was launched ceremonially the other day with a mock bottle of champagne. It will be formally dedicated on November 29 by the Bishop of Southampton.

The idea came from the congregation who thought a boat-shaped altar was appropriate for a coastal parish, and would complete the sense of being afloat. The sides of the altar are curved and hollow, and its surfaces varnished, to complete the nautical feel.

It was created for the church by Derek Abra and his colleagues Alan Bailey and Brian Carey, for Little Ship Projects Ltd, at Wilson’s Boatyard near the church.

The congregation have been thinking about doing this since the 1960s, when they first built a pulpit in the shape of a boat, which later became the font.

It came back to us when we told the story of how St Andrew was called by Jesus a couple of years ago.

We arranged the congregation into the shape of a boat to tell the story, and they seemed to like it.

I wanted it to be made on Hayling Island itself, and I found a boat-builder who would do it. It means when I can stand behind the altar, the congregation will feel like they are looking at the front of a boat.

It seems appropriate, given all the boating connections on Hayling Island, the fact that St Andrew’s is two minutes from the beach, and all the references to boats in the Bible. Those stories will now come to life even more.

It does look like the real thing, and you can smell the varnish. There’s even a shelf under the altar, which is where we normally place the Nativity scene.

For me, the Church and creativity go together. We need to proclaim the gospel afresh in every generation, and it has to come alive in different ways so people can interpret it in their own way.

Why not come and see what it looks like for yourself?