|Comment on this report, or find other reports.
|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.
||1276: St Thomas, Philadelphia Campus, Sheffield, England
Mystery Worshipper: Dinghy Sailor.
The church: St Thomas, Philadelphia Campus, Sheffield, England.
Denomination: A local ecumenical project between the Church of England
and the Baptist Church.
Comment: See the discussion thread on this report.
The building: There's a good reason why this church calls itself
a campus! It occupies several old converted warehouses in the central industrial
district of Sheffield; I counted at least four of them. It was rather confusing,
actually. I ended up accosting some people who looked likely to be Christians
or at least looked suspiciously middle class for this part of town to
find out which building we were actually meeting in.
The church: Well, they're an official Church of England Fresh Expression
of Church, if that counts! They're a mission church, founded by a large
local church, St Thomas Crookes, to reach people in Sheffield's city centre.
(Yes, St Tom's is the church that founded the youth-centred alternative
worship service known as the Nine O'clock Service, in case you were wondering.)
The neighbourhood: Sheffield is a city in the north of England once
known as a steel production centre. It is home to the University of Sheffield.
The church is based in Sheffield's industrial district, so there are a lot
of warehouses nearby, but not very much else, though there is some housing
maybe a quarter of a mile away. It makes one wonder where the congregation
actually come from; further investigation revealed that they're from a fairly
The cast: The service was led by the Rev. Steve Cockram, a Baptist
minister at the church. On sermon duty we had Richard England, who I found
out later was their student worker.
The date & time: Sunday, 23 April 2006, 10.30am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
I'd estimate there were maybe 300 to 400 people there. The building could
have held more, but it was about 80 percent full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted at the door by a guide who handed me a "welcomer"
and said that as a first time visitor I was entitled to a free book. He
passed me on to someone named Paul, who explained the church's various groupings
called lifeshapes, clusters, focuses, triangles, etc. I was beginning to
get lost in the jargon. "You see," said Paul, "Some have
a geographical focus and some have a more mission-oriented focus, like outreaches
to prostitutes or the homeless or something." The book he gave me is
supposed to explain all this. I actually enjoyed my conversation with Paul
despite the jargon!
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a stackable plastic chair, exactly the sort you get in schools. My
backside remembered those schooldays well and accommodated itself nicely
to the contours of the "pew."
How would you describe the pre-service
It was a busy hustle, as people chatted to their friends, browsed the bookstall,
or sampled the pre-service coffee and pastries. Sadly, I hadn't been able
to get any pastries, since I'd spent so long being told about lifeshapes,
clusters, focuses and triangles. I did have a bit of time to chat with the
person sitting next to me before the service began.
What were the exact opening words of the
The guitars had already started playing for the first chorus when the leader
said, "All right, could you be making your way to the seats, please?"
What books did the congregation use during the
No books were provided. Many brought their own Bibles, and the readings
and songs appeared on an on-stage data projector screen. Though I didn't
have a Bible with me, the reading sounded like it was from the New International
What musical instruments were played?
Acoustic and electric guitars, a bass guitar, a drumkit, and lead and backing singers. The classic Christian rock lineup.
Did anything distract you?
During the music, a notice suddenly appeared: "Would the parent of
134 please come to Bright Sparks." Bright Sparks was obviously the
playgroup, and the music was certainly too loud to call for them, but it
seemed slightly impersonal that the children were given numbers at Sunday
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Philadelphia is the happiest, clappiest church I've ever been to. My ears
actually had to adjust to the volume. The air was a forest of hands – they
even had people waving streamers at the front! (Why is it always women that
wave streamers, by the way? I've never seen a man do it, ever.)
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 I felt the sermon could have been shorter without losing anything.
Richard England told too many anecdotes for my liking. He made some good
points, though, and was lively and engaging.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
"No prize, no price" – 1 Corinthians 9. Some people are running
nowhere, but just running. We've got to pay the price, to train hard, and
get out of our comfort zones for Jesus. We wouldn't race if we didn't have
a prize to aim for, and that's eternity with Jesus. Jesus also had to pay
a price, which was death on a cross. His prize is us, every single one of
Which part of the service was like being in
Being in a church where people were so obviously enthusiastic. I could see
that this wasn't just a church for Sunday pew-pushing, it was a church you
could plant your roots in, and you wouldn't be the only one doing so.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The preacher seemed to inject "Y'know" into every other phrase.
"No, I don't know!" I wanted to scream. "Get on with it and
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I continued my conversation with the person sitting next to me. Eventually
I wandered off to sample the coffee.
How would you describe the after-service
It was bog-standard instant in a cardboard cup. I needed it too the service had left me feeling rather tired.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 The style isn't really for me. I prefer smaller churches and I'm
not all that keen on 40 minute sermons. All these are minor points, though,
since this was definitely a church where I could see Jesus working. I'd
need to read the jargon-busting book first!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
|We rely on voluntary donations to stay online. If you're a regular visitor to Ship of Fools, please consider supporting us.
|The Mystery Pilgrim
| One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
| Read reports from 70 London churches, visited by a small army of Mystery Worshippers on one single Sunday. Read here.