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3268: St Mark’s Broomhill and Broomhall, Sheffield, England
St Mark's Sheffield (Exterior)
Photo: © Wikityke and used under license
Mystery Worshipper: Jamh2000.
The church: St Mark’s Broomhill and Broomhall, Sheffield, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Sheffield.
The building: The tower is Gothic Revival but is all that is left of the building that dated from 1871, which was destroyed by an incendiary bomb during the Blitz. The present building was designed by ecclesiastical architect George Pace and was consecrated in 1963. It is in the Modernist style, tastefully blending with the tower. The nave is high and spacious, intersected by thick white vertical and horizontal beams, with large stained glass windows at either end. There is a huge modern organ case to one side of the chancel; this forms a key part of the building structure. The overall impression is of a large white room with nice modern touches.
The church: St Mark’s describes its style as "living, thinking faith." It is a progressive church affiliated with Inclusive Church and the Progressive Church Network. The community is diverse and welcomes a number of refugees. Their many groups and activities are all well documented on their website. I'll just mention their frequent "Parish Weekends," a series of away events that provide (quoting from their website) "a great opportunity to get to know one another better and to have some fun." There are three services each Sunday: a Book of Common Prayer service, a parish eucharist, and a night service. Weekday services alternate between morning prayer and holy communion.
The neighbourhood: The parish serves Broomhill and Broomhall, two similarly named but highly distinctive communities on the west side of Sheffield. Broomhill is one of the highest ranking areas outside London for overall wealth and includes Sheffield University. Broomhall is a melting pot of diversity and features pubs, restaurants, and shops of all types.
The cast: The Revd Sarah Colver, associate vicar, led the service. The Revd Sue Hammersley, vicar, preached.
The date & time: Christmas Day, 25 December 2017, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Parish Festival Eucharist.

How full was the building?
Mostly full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed at the door with a handshake and "Happy Christmas," and again in the same way by a sidesperson who handed me a service sheet. Two people in the pews also said "Happy Christmas."

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, my modern pew was very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Friendly and relaxed with a sense of occasion. People were smiling and chatting.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We have heard a promise of peace."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Just the service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
An excellent, powerful and in-tune organ, an opus of Cousans Organs Ltd of Coalville, Leicestershire, dating from 1963, overhauled by Wood Pipe Organ Builders of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, in 2015. Some of the pipework has come from other historic instruments.

Did anything distract you?
The modern architecture was really beautiful. They had clearly taken great care with the Christmas decorations, which were warm and complemented the building. A homeless man sat on his own behind me clearly wishing to participate.

St Mark's, Sheffield (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was fairly traditional but with modern touches. Carols were sung by a good amateur choir accompanied by the organ. The words had been vetted for sexist or exclusive language. We also sang a hymn by the Scottish hymn-writer, Church of Scotland minister and member of the Iona Community John L. Bell – which, as you can imagine, talked about some dark themes.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The main sermon was preceded by a children's talk at the front of the church that featured a story about pigs and reflected on the importance of friends. Sadly there were very few children in attendance to enjoy it. The main sermon was well-delivered and clear, and the tone was appropriate and varied – but see below.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was about joy. Joy is not merely happiness, but that which holds together the fabric of life. It persists through difficult times and events. Even sadness felt over death is nonetheless set against a background of joy at one's life and good qualities.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The welcome, the carefully paced liturgy, and the really excellent rendition of a fugal version of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" by the choir as a final anthem at the back of the church. This was really joyful and superbly executed.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was a little surprised that the sermon made no reference to Jesus, seeing as it was Christmas Day. While heartfelt, it did not really develop the idea of "joy" in the context of Christmas.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A sidesperson offered me a drink and chatted about where I was from. Another couple spoke to me about our shared liking of Taizé.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was Christmas and so Prosecco and nibbles were served – very nice.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I valued the welcome, the excellent liturgy, and the values of this church. As a progressive Christian I would come here if I lived in the city.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. The place felt unstuffy and open to the wider world, and the liturgy enabled the kind of spiritual reflection that I believe people are looking for. But one must be careful not to lose touch with faith. No Jesus in a Christmas Day sermon is pushing it a bit.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That version of "We wish you a merry Christmas!"
 
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