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1111: The Lighthouse at Christ Church Fulwood, Sheffield, England
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The Lighthouse at Christ Church, Sheffield, England
Mystery Worshipper: Dinghy Sailor.
The church: The Lighthouse at Christ Church, Sheffield, England.
Denomination: The Lighthouse is a student ourtreach service of Christ Church, an Anglican church in Sheffield.
The building: The Lighthouse usually takes place in a school hall in the middle of the student district of Broomhill. This Sunday, however, the "Christian" school kicked the Christians out so they could host a model train exhibition or something, so we were in Christ Church's hall two miles up the road.
The church: The number of students! The students are also encouraged to attend Christ Church's evening service, where some "normal" people can also be found, but this morning I saw only students except for perhaps eight people not currently enrolled on a degree course.
The neighbourhood: The church is situated in a wealthy suburb in the southwest of Sheffield, in an area close to the University of Sheffield and other schools and hence popular with students.
The cast: The service was led by Mr David Todd, with Mr Tim Chester as guest speaker.
What was the name of the service?
Weekly service.

How full was the building?
I'd estimate there were perhaps 60 people, filling the room to capacity. The school hall they normally use is more commodious.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I milled around beforehand drinking coffee, David Todd, one of the leaders, introduced me to an assistant and a bunch of students he was chatting with. After the standard "Where are you studying? What course are you doing? What A levels did you do?" we talked a bit about the relative merits of various computer programming languages.

Was your pew comfortable?
We sat on folding chairs arranged around tables, roughly eight per table. Slightly "alternative" I know, but yes, my chair was comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Once we sat down, people continued to chat in table groups until we were called to order. Peope from the Christ Church service that had just ended who were still standing about enjoying their last sips of coffee were politely invited to finish up and leave.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hello. It's good to see you. Well done to all of you who've made it here. If you can feel a tingling sensation in your toes, guess what? That's warmth you're feeling!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The congregation brought their own Bibles, which seemed almost universally to be New International Version. No other books were used, though the speaker did use an overhead projector and screen.

What musical instruments were played?
There was no music.

Did anything distract you?
Well, for starters, the excellent specimens of Homo sapiens sitting all round my table. We were also given some bags of custard doughnuts as the service started. I couldn't help wondering throughout whether there would be any left in our bag at the conclusion of the service, and how best to procure them.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was all very informal. No music, no lesson, no liturgy, etc. Instead, after the notices were given out, the talk started, and it lasted for the rest of the service. At various points we broke off into table groups, or even smaller groups of threes, to discuss a point and give feedback to the whole assembly, with perhaps a Bible passage to support our contentions.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
62 minutes and 30 seconds, including the time we spent in discussion.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Tim Chester was an engaging speaker, who fitted comfortably into the Lighthouse's style of service. He also had a lot of experience with which to back up his arguments.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Tim's talk was entitled "Good news for the poor" and dealt with the place social action should hold within Christianity (or to be precise, within British evangelicalism). He used caricature to postulate four different viewpoints, and asked us whether we thought that social action was of lesser or equal importance to evangelism, or whether they were indeed part of the same thing, and under what circumstances both were called for. During the course of his talk I learned that since I have at least one tap in my house, I'm among the richest seventh of the globe.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The talk. Round my neck of the woods, lots of the evangelicals seem to value straightforward evangelism at the expense of all else, be that Christian maturity or caring for our neighbours' physical needs. It was refreshing to hear a different viewpoint put forward with competence.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I wouldn't call any part of the service particularly hellish, although I do have concerns about a church full of students (see below).

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Most of the hanging round took place before the service, and afterward people started to clear off fairly quickly. Not very many people spoke to me, but I did manage to get invited to Sheffield University's Christian Union the next day.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Well, it was actually pre-service coffee, fairly traded and accompanied by custard doughnuts. To continue the story from before, at the end I looked in the bag and, joy of joys, there were more doughnuts left! Mmmm.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – The service was fairly welcoming and presented some solid teaching in a relaxed atmosphere. But I still have a gripe about a church with only one group of people there – students. If I made Lighthouse my regular, I'd have to go somewhere else as well. Indeed, leaders at Lighthouse encourage people to attend Christ Church's evening service. But not everyone wants to spend all day Sunday at church. The university does have a Christian Union, so if I were studying in the area I think what I would do is visit the Christian Union regularly and then find a church to attend on Sundays that had a broader mix of people.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. For all my niggles, this service represented an enthusiastic bunch of young Christians who really want to meet together. Surely that's a good thing.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days" time?
The statistic about the water taps. And the custard that squirted out of my doughnut onto my t-shirt.
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