Mystery Worshipper: Variable Bede
Church: St Mark's
Location: Broomhill, Sheffield, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 March 2006, 10:00am
This Gothic church, built in 1871, was bombed during the Second World War in 1940. In 1963 George Pace's modern church was completed, retaining the original spire. The design was intended to reflect the Liturgical Movement, but not as "theatre in the round" the altar is enclosed by rails below the fascinating east window.
There are a lot of students in the area, but the congregation contained a good mixture of all ages. This church is overtly liberal and inclusive, with notices about a gay and lesbian Christian organization and "looking forward to women in the Episcopate".
The Royal Hallamshire Hospital is almost next door.
President: Adrian Alker (vicar).Preacher: Revd Nancy Johnson.Assistant: Liz Chester.There were also several servers.
What was the name of the service?Parish Communion
How full was the building?
The pews could seat 260 people, and I estimated about 130 of all ages were present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I got a smile and greeting with the hymnal and took a seat. I was rather early, and as the vicar walked past he greeted me and we chatted for a few minutes.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were firm with enough space between them for long-legged people to kneel so perfect, in my opinion.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
When I arrived the choir were still rehearsing. After that, people were generally sociable but not noisy or disturbing to silent prayer. There were also two remote-controlled Daleks moving around for a few minutes! I later discovered that someone else in the congregation put pictures of them on the web.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone. Before the service, since we're using a new setting for Lent, we'll rehearse the Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei with the choir." I believe the setting was composed by a member of this church.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New (New Anglican Edition) and an A5 leaflet containing eight pages of the order of worship and four pages of the weekly newsletter.
What musical instruments were played?
A very good organist and choir (of about 20).
Did anything distract you?
For a while in the middle of the service the sun was shining into my face. The architecture and ornaments are very interesting and would have been pleasantly distracting if I hadn't looked around the previous day and before the service.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a very good combination of fancy Anglican worship (chasuble, the Benedictus, processional candles, servers) with some modern touches and liturgical texts from the Iona community. I felt very comfortable kneeling and making traditional gestures at the appropriate points, and there were both traditional and informal hymns. The communion bread was, unusually, leavened bread about an inch thick. The children also sat in the sanctuary just before the end of the service to discuss their lessons with the vicar.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – No eccentricities, just well-written and well-delivered.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
"Our common vulnerability." Like hermit crabs, we have to go through particularly vulnerable phases in life (between shells) in order to grow. This vulnerability is not all bad, however, but offers us opportunities to be closer to God. John Wesley, for example, went through several apparent failures and desperate phases in his life that contributed to his growth and successful work for God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music, liturgical actions and church ornaments were all beautiful and inspiring.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not much. I'm normally a Gothic enthusiast but I really liked the modern architecture here except for the font, which unfortunately looked like a kitchen sink set in a circular worktop island.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Within minutes, the vicar spotted me alone, chatted with me again and introduced me to a regular member with a job somewhat related to mine.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was fine. I didn't see what brand, but since this church promotes Fairtrade goods, I'm sure it wasn't Nescafé.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – If I lived anywhere near it, I'd definitely go here. I felt very welcome and will probably go back occasionally even though it's out of the way.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. This church has a very friendly and devout atmosphere. I left with a smile on my face and good music in my head.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The vicar bouncing around slightly to the final hymn ("One more step") while clearing up the altar, and the organist playing (very well) "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" afterwards.