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  1269: St James, Norton, Sheffield, England

St James, Norton, Sheffield, England

Mystery Worshipper: Variable Bede.
The church: St James, Norton, Sheffield, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: "Founded 1170" according to the sign, the church was modified considerably in the 18th century (it's hard to imagine this small church with galleries crammed in), then heavily restored in the 19th century as a "Victorian medieval" church. A partly original Norman doorway and an early English font attest to its age.
The church: They were between vicars at the time of my visit, but the new vicar has been agreed, with installation scheduled for September 2006.
The neighbourhood: The area is now a middle-class suburb of Sheffield, most of which was probably built in the 20th century. The church was originally an outpost of Beauchief Abbey to serve the local manors and is adjacent to Graves Park (farmland and woods bought by JG Graves in 1925 and donated to the people of Sheffield for public recreation).
The cast: The Rev. Mike Healey, assistant curate, celebrated and preached. There were three servers, two young people and one adult.
The date & time: 23 April 2006, second Sunday of Easter, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
"Sung Mass" on the sign outside, "Sung Eucharist" on the leaflet.

How full was the building?
There were about 45 people and one large, quiet dog in pews that could seat 90.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived a bit too early (they were still assembling hymnals and leaflets) so I had to wait a few minutes. I don't think they expect many visitors. The peace ceremony seemed quite friendly, though.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew and hassock were comfortable, but I didn't feel confident about stretching my legs out to kneel properly for fear of kicking the people in the next pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Calm but not silent.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Ancient and Modern: New Standard, a four-page A5 leaflet (to take away) with the day's collect and readings and a few announcements, and another four-page leaflet with the fixed texts.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
I think there was a technical problem with the organ at one point, as there was no music while the collection was taken up and we sang the offertory hymn unaccompanied. The coins hitting the unpadded metal offering plates made quite a bit of noise.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly high church: bells without smells. Parts of the service (including the collect) were chanted.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Father Healey spoke very confidently and articulately and, as far as I could tell, without using notes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Luke's Gospel and Acts provide the basis for much of the Church's liturgical calendar, in contrast to John's Gospel, which provides a lot of our theology. The sermon was quite interesting but I can't quite remember the conclusion.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was very good (apart from the glitch during the offering) and the church is beautiful.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It was hard to get a good view of the altar, but that's a consequence of the authentic layout of the church. Being ignored after the service was unpleasant; I hope this isn't their usual practice.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I stood there feeling ignored for several minutes, then asked someone if I could help myself to coffee from the tray in the corner. Then I was ignored for a few more minutes. Finally I finished my coffee and went over to the curate (who I think felt he had to maintain his post at the door). We had an interesting chat about local history and the architecture of the church, and he made sure I had a parish newsletter with contact details and service times to take with me. He was very friendly, and talking to him more or less made up for the time left alone.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was made in the vestry and brought out in plastic cups on trays, so I couldn't tell if it was fair trade. I didn't really notice the quality of the coffee because I was frustrated at being ignored.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – I liked the music and liturgy, so I'd consider going again to give them another chance to welcome a visitor.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, except when I was hanging around afterwards looking lost.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The contrast between the friendly peace and beautiful service and being ignored afterwards.
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