Mystery Worshipper: Irish Rover
Church: Salvation Army Citadel
Location: Sheffield, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 15 January 2012, 5:00pm
A striking, modern, purpose-built structure, set on a busy road opposite a pub. There is a church car park at the rear and plentiful double yellow lines elsewhere (the service leader mentioned the risk of parking fines). The interior design is neat and comfortable with a good welcome/mingling area. The main worship area is octagonal and fairly minimalist in decor, although there were a few old flags standing forlornly about the place.
They sponsor a number of activities, including several youth programs, Bible study, and fellowship groups for middle aged folk and seniors. They hold a family worship service as well as Sunday morning and evening worship.
Sheffield, in South Yorkshire, was formerly known for its steel industry. It was heavily bombed during World War II and slipped steadily downhill due to foreign competition in steel. However, the 21st century has brought redevelopment and revitalisation to Sheffield, and in 2008 it was voted among the top ten best cities to locate a business today.
Major Liliane Westlake was at the mic most of the time. Her husband, Major Paul Westlake, assisted.
What was the name of the service?Evening Worship.
How full was the building?
Comfortably full, but plenty of seats to choose from toward the back of the building.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two ladies in uniform were deployed to attend to welcoming duties. They were in conversation as I approached. After an "Evening" from each and a notice sheet from the second, their conversation quickly resumed.
Was your pew comfortable?
Comfy upholstered seat and back rest, attached to the others in the row. Good leg room. Little shelf below the seat in front where notebooks, writing utensils, etc. could be stashed.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Jolly, chatty pub-like atmosphere. People obviously enjoyed warm friendships.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening. There is no intent to sing the announcements."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books in evidence. The words for all sung worship appeared on two walls from two very evident data projectors attached to the ceiling. The Bible reading, which we were all invited to read out loud, appeared as writing on the wall. The smallish Times Roman font was not ideal in my view. Give me bigger, bolder Arial any day. The Bible version was not stated but it seemed modern - New International Version at a guess.
What musical instruments were played?
Well, lets just say the brass band was playing, you know the sort of thing. In fact there were two bands: the senior and the junior. A piano was also employed. Much to my surprise (and delight) only one tambourine was played. A full drum kit was stationed up the front but the drummer was clearly having a night off.
Did anything distract you?
In the early part of the service, just as I was settling in, I was taken aback when what seemed like a quarter of the congregation in uniform rose, as one man, and were pronounced to be the choir. Just to their right was a window into a darkened room where video screens were displaying images from several cameras positioned about the worship space. One of the cameras, I fear, was trained on me! But curiously, a stuffed dog sitting on the windowsill appeared to be the only one looking at the screens. I wondered about the meaning of various epaulets on uniforms and whether spectacle wearing had become compulsory for most members.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The style of worship was mixed but predominantly traditional. Some worship songs just dont lend themselves to a brass band accompaniment, I guess. They were happy in their worship. In the absence of the drummer, percussion was down to the rank and file worshipper. Clapping broke out fervently during most choruses, syncopation and the lot. When the brass band played and the clapping was in full swing, the singing was almost inaudible.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The preacher was warm, fluent, engaging, a good raconteur. The sermon structure was either subtle or absent.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The reading was from Genesis 45 and the message was hung round the story of Joseph. We learned from Joseph's life. He was a top bloke, spiritually speaking, full of faith and not falling into any of the pitfalls we might when faced with difficulties in life. He was not blaming God, resentful or on the other hand fatalistic. We, like him, should be full of faith, realising that God has everything planned. We need to be steeped in the scriptures, trusting God and following him closely. It's as easy as that. Or is it?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Realising the many worthwhile projects these dear people are engaged in. One lady gave an account of a new project as a community engagement worker with isolated elderly people.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The feeling of being in a militarised zone surrounded by uniformed worshippers with the cameras recording everything. The brass band disturbed me greatly as I sat quietly reflecting with eyes closed at the end of the service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I could not get to my feet before several ladies engaged me in pleasant conversation. A third intercepted me at the door with friendly chat, as did several others. This warmth and genuine friendliness more than made up for the seemingly disinterested encounter at the door on the way in.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I asked about coffee and lady number three introduced me to a machine in the mingling area. When I said I had no money, she kindly produced 30p and I had a terrible cup of machine-instant coffee.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – I don't like brass bands.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
For sure. I was delighted to be reminded about the diversity within the broad Christian Church. This is a group of people who follow Jesus and seem to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty doing stuff out there. I heartily approve.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The warm welcome at the end and the stuffed dog in the surveillance room.