St Luke's, Headingley, West Yorkshire, England


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Luke's
Location: Headingley, West Yorkshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 January 2017, 10:30am

The building

Church House is a large, detached, solid-looking, dark stone building (very Leeds). Next to it is the chapel where services are held, which was converted from an outbuilding in 1983. Whilst the exterior is roughly in keeping with the main building, inside it is light, airy and beautifully decorated.

The church

Holy Communion services are held in English (weekly), Polish (monthly, first Sunday), and German (monthly, second Sunday), so the community is varied. Few of the church members are local and each congregation is small.

The neighborhood

Headingley is a suburb of Leeds, to the northwest of city centre. Headingley Stadium is home to the Yorkshire County Cricket Club as well as the Leeds Rhinos rugby league and Leeds Carnegie rugby union clubs, but this particular part of Headingley is nowhere near the stadium. Rather, it is dominated by the Arndale Centre shops and student accommodation. (There are twenty-three Arndale Centres throughout the United Kingdom; they were the first American-style shopping malls to be built here.) Jacqueline Hill, the last known victim of Peter Sutcliffe, the "Yorkshire Ripper," lived in Lupton Flats (one of the student accommodations) and was attacked near the church in 1980. As a student at Leeds in the 1980s myself, I always avoided this road. Pity – I missed out on discovering a gorgeous little chapel.

The cast

The Revd Libby Toomsalu, pastor, presided and preached. A gentleman named Nev played the organ. Nev has been the organist at St Luke's for 50 years (clearly man and boy, as he looks nowhere near old enough!).

What was the name of the service?

New Year Holy Communion.

How full was the building?

The chapel is small, with a capacity of 50 at a push. There were six adults (including Nev) and two small children in attendance.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was welcomed with a smile and a "Hello, would you like a book?" as I entered. Everyone shook my hand and smiled as we exchanged the peace.

Was your pew comfortable?

I'm not a fan of chairs in church as a rule, but boy was mine comfy! Wooden with blue upholstery. My main problem was knowing when to use said chair. Sitting for hymns? Standing for prayers? Is that the Lutheran way? I guess so!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Although I arrived half an hour before the service, I wasn't able to enter the chapel until the previous service (Holy Communion in Polish) had finished, so there was no time for an atmosphere to develop. For the few minutes before the service started, people were fairly quiet.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome" followed by a short apology for the late start to the service.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A leaflet was provided for the liturgy, along with a separate sheet with the readings, psalm and the day's prayer on it. The hymn book used was Hymns Old & New, Revised and Enlarged.

What musical instruments were played?

Hymns and sung responses were accompanied by an electric organ. The sung responses were all set to the same tune, which was a relief, so that by the time we reached the eucharistic prayers I was able to have a stab at joining in.

Did anything distract you?

The stained glass window behind the altar is beautiful, and I found myself gazing at it frequently before guiltily bringing myself back to the service. I mentioned the window to Pastor Libby, who told me that it was made by a previous pastor's wife. Libby also told me that she loves it too and there are "so many things to find in it when you look." I wonder if she saw me staring.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

The worship was both liturgical and informal. Although there were only two children present, they were both asked to come up to the front and receive some New Year chocolate, which they both did willingly. They both seemed clearly used to being in church. The older boy (about five) also took the collection bag around to all of us and then up to the altar. He handled it like a pro.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

6 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – Pastor Libby looked and sounded as if she enjoyed preaching, which is too often an unexpected bonus.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The text used was from Luke 2 (the birth of Jesus and the shepherds' visitation). She started with a reference to the 1960s pop group The Spinners and ended with a reminder that, like the shepherds, we should be glorifying and praising God for all the things that we have heard and seen.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

When there are only six singers in the congregation it's hard for the singing to be heavenly, but I'm sure God was humming along and smiling with us as we attempted "While Shepherds Watched" to the Methodist hymn tune Cranbrook (better known as the Yorkshire folk song "On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at"). Fifty per cent of us had clearly attempted it before; I'm not sure that the other fifty per cent will attempt it again. Regardless, there was much smiling and you can't beat a good tune.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The "hellish" things about the service were entirely due to my own limitations; I don't like sitting and standing at the "wrong" times as it disturbs my Anglican equilibrium.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

After the service everyone had a job to do, whether it was putting books away or taking the Christmas tree down. Thus, there was only the pastor to look lost to on the way out. She invited me to stay for coffee and took me to the main building, where eventually all of us were gathered. Pastor Libby has worked at a Church of England school as well as for a Methodist organisation and now (in her retirement) for the Lutheran Church. I joked that she needed to "settle down and pick one," which led to several of us commenting that actually we don't need to pick one – we pick God, and he us.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The coffee and tea were prepared in jugs placed on trays, along with assorted biscuits, on a serving hatch across the corridor from the kitchen. This hatch opened onto the lounge, where I had been left on my own until the others had finished their post-service jobs. This was fine and I helped out by moving the trays into the room and helping myself. Everyone chatted with me. I'm fairly sure that most of them stayed for coffee only because I was a visitor to be welcomed.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 – If the chapel were in my home town, then yes, I would go along sometimes and support this little group. They're all aware that their congregation is small and unlikely to grow, but I admire them for their tenacity.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

A resounding yes!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Two things: (1) The stained glass window; and (2) we don't need to pick. I'm not Lutheran, but for Christians "that which unites us is far greater than that which divides us."

Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you’d like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.

Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Comments and corrections

To comment, please scroll to the end of this report and add your thoughts there. To send us factual corrections, please contact us. We also discuss reports on our Ecclesiantics bulletin board.

© Ship of Fools