Mystery Worshipper: Eruresto Nyell (visiting with Extreme Harmony)
Church: Victoria Hall Methodist
Location: Sheffield, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 7 October 2012, 10:45am
The building is quite large and could easily seat 300. I have heard it described as UK Methodism's closest thing to a cathedral for this reason. Inside it has the wood panelling and dominant pulpit that seem to be traditional for Methodist churches, with a gallery and lobby with automatic doors the first time I've seen that in a UK church! It is quite attractive outside.
We were told by the people that welcomed us that because of the multicultural population, due in part to the students at the two universities in the city, they have members from many different countries (30 when all are present). They have services each week in French and Shona (a language spoken in Zimbabwe) as a result.
Sheffield is a large city, with two universities. It also has two cathedrals one for the Anglican Diocese of Sheffield; and one for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hallam.
The Revd Dr Noel Irwin, superintendent minister, led the service.
What was the name of the service?Holy Communion
How full was the building?
I counted 80 people by the time we went up for communion, but the building was only one-fourth to one-third full, at a guess.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were welcomed very warmly indeed! No fewer than three people independently greeted us and talked to us about the church and the area.
Was your pew comfortable?
We had padded folding chairs, which were possibly the most comfortable chairs I've ever sat in for a church service. Almost too comfortable, if possible I like to be slightly on edge for the service.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a good deal of chatter, which theoretically died down five minutes before the service when a time of silence was announced. But two people in the row in front of me kept chatting very audibly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to our service. We will now have a time of silence as we think of Jesus, the light of the world."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns and Psalms; Hymns Old and New (once); and a service booklet.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ I couldn't tell whether it was digital or pipe because its output was behind a dark mesh at the front of the church.
Did anything distract you?
A number of things! The two ladies chattering during the time of silence, as well as the clattering of chairs as we stood and sat.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly traditional Methodist, but the singing was quite reedy in places. "All Things Bright and Beautiful" is hard to sing as it is, and several of the other hymns had that "nobody-knows-this" feel at times.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 – I'm sorry to say it was the most blas sermon I have ever heard, even though the Revd Dr Irwin's delivery was good. He warned us that he wanted to give us a heavier dose of teaching, and spoke with a good deal of passion (at one point he mentioned an incident where a protester had slammed his Bible into a car bonnet, denting it).
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His message seemed to be that if something in the Bible seems difficult or awkward, abandon it and go with what seems more loving to you.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The wonderful welcome. The people were thoroughly enthused to have us worshipping with them.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sermon. I will admit that I am, if not a conservative evangelical, then certainly quite evangelical and quite conservative, but this sermon went too far. His message seemed to be that we should make up our beliefs as we saw fit.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were swiftly invited to the back for tea, coffee, and, thanks to a wedding the day before, rich fruit cake! People were keen to talk to us.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We were unable to stay for tea, but I did nab a slice of wedding cake, which was delightful.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – The sermon was not the kind of teaching that would draw me back.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Only marginally. The sermon was a rather heavy dead weight, although the welcoming congregation were lovely.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The thought of slamming one's Bible into a car bonnet. Oh well, at least it was the Authorised Version.