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  1258: Stephen Hill Methodist, Crosspool, Sheffield, England

Stephen Hill Methodist, Crosspool, Sheffield

Mystery Worshipper: Dinghy sailor.
The church: Stephen Hill Methodist, Crosspool, Sheffield, England.
Denomination: Methodist.
The building: A fairly large, modern, oblong building, but clearly a church, with a community centre attached. There is a large open foyer at the back. Inside the auditorium, I thought the altar appeared more prominent than the pulpit, and I wondered if John Wesley would have approved.
The church: They do seem to be unusually ecumenical, having close links with the local Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. They sponsor a scout troop, guide colony, old people's lunch club, and various other community gatherings.
The neighbourhood: The church is located in Crosspool, a middle class residential neighbourhood in the south west of Sheffield.
The cast: The minister was the Rev. Elizabeth Mackey, assisted by a lay preacher, Mrs Maureen Irwin.
The date & time: Ash Wednesday, 1 March 2006, 11.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Mid-week service of worship for Ash Wednesday.

How full was the building?
I counted 20; the room had seats for over 100. I was assured, though, that they had a regular turnout of 80-100 on Sunday mornings. The congregation were mostly female, and I was possibly the only person present under the age of 40.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was a few minutes late – or rather, the service started a few minutes early. I entered as they were starting their first hymn. The lady next to me gave me her hymnbook and went to get another one for herself. An elderly gentleman in front of me turned around and nodded, and kept doing so throughout the service – more about this later.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a padded seat, with a holder underneath for books. And yes, it was very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As I walked in, I passed a goodly number of old people having coffee and reading newspapers in the church's open-plan foyer. The conversation sounded lively and good-natured, and I was disappointed that they weren't still going when the service finished!

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns & Psalms, the Methodist hymn book. The preacher read from her own Bible, but I didn't recognise what version she was using.

What musical instruments were played?
An organ.

Did anything distract you?
Well, there was the old gent turning round and winking at me all the time. I thought his behaviour quite odd, but afterwards he told me that he thought he knew me from somewhere.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a traditional Methodist hymn sandwich, similar to the one being held at hundreds of Methodist, Reformed, Presbyterian and perhaps even some Anglican churches up and down the country that day.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

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

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The ashes which some Christians put on their heads on Ash Wednesday are merely a symbol of suffering. We all have to go through suffering in our lives. But Jesus, who fasted, suffered and died for us, is there to help us, and is always with us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The service was short and perfunctory, and so I amused myself by indulging in the heavenly pastime of dreaming up a cover story. Before coming, I had decided to tell anyone who inquired that I was a first year student at the University of Sheffield who lived in the halls down the road. But 10 minutes into the service, a dreadful thought struck me. I was wearing my University of York top! No! The horror! I had to think up a new cover story fast. In the congregation of 20, I was bound to get asked. Eventually, I decided that I was a first year who'd come back home for the weekend, had been to a Methodist church at university, and wanted to see how they did things here. Well, it was almost true.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was a bit annoyed at the absence of pew Bibles, as I like to look up the stuff the preacher refers to. No collection was taken up, and so I had to be imaginative in where I dropped my Mystery Worship calling card. I ended up putting it on top of the stack of notice sheets.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I almost immediately got pounced on by several people who appeared pleased to see someone a third of the average age! They asked me why I had come, would I come again, and what were the churches like at home. Someone even offered me a lift home.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – Not quite to my taste, and although a midday, midweek service was bound to be attended mainly by those with the time to do so, I'd have felt mightily encouraged to see at least one younger person. Still, it was a very welcoming place, and I'm sure I'd find a way to fit in.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, definitely. But I do sometimes wonder about the future of the church in Britain when there are so many older people, or rather, so few of the younger variety. I've attended smaller services than this one in the past, and I do realise the reasons, but it just struck me more deeply this time. I'm still glad to be a Christian, but incidents like this make me wonder about the size of the task my generation has on its hands.

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