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2418: Our Lady of Lourdes, Hackenthorpe, Sheffield, England
Our Lady of Lourdes, Sheffield Photo: Colin Hinson
Mystery Worshipper: Don Bosco, accompanied by the Dowager Duchess Theresa.
The church: Our Lady of Lourdes, Hackenthorpe, Sheffield, England.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Hallam.
The building: A red brick church, completed in 1956, inspired by German churches of the early 1930s. It strikes as very much "built on a budget." Just 17 years after the church was completed, the altar was brought forward and the pulpit removed, leaving an area of the original mosaic floor unfinished. Fortunately, the design was finished in time for Holy Week in 1973. The sanctuary reordering spared the marble altar rails and tabernacle above where the altar used to stand. The pulpit is new, made from what appears to be tastefully carved wood. The plastered interior has been painted light blue. Lengthy windows allow the church to be light and airy. There are several modern stained glass windows. Traditional style Stations of the Cross can still be found on the walls in the nave. The baptistery has been jarringly converted to a kitchen, with the font plonked unceremoniously in the aisle at the west end.
The church: The parish incorporates St Anthony's Church in Gleadless (now the chapel of ease for the parish). It is also attached to St John Fisher Primary School and Beighton Hospital. The pew sheet suggests plenty of faith-based groups throughout the week, including toddlers' groups, youth activities, and their Guild of St Stephen.
The neighbourhood: Hackenthorpe is part of the historical township of Sheffield. The church is located in a maze-like residential area that sprang up in a hurry in the the 1950s to accommodate families who moved to Beighton to work in the steel foundries. Local legend has it that the surrounding fields are haunted by the ghosts of fighting soldiers. Indeed, ethereal bells can be heard near the primary school during the night.
The cast: The Revd Paul O'Hara, parish priest, was celebrant. An unnamed deacon of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham proclaimed the gospel and preached. The well-trained two acolytes and third server wore white and blue albs.
The date & time: Sunday, 22 July 2012, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
Just over a quarter full in a building that could seat about 200.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were warmly greeted by four people. Despite the genuine smiles, it was a little intimidating.

Was your pew comfortable?
Standard issue "one hour maximum stay" pews. They did the job.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The choir were practicing and the church resembled a very loud coffee shop, right up to the bell announcing the entrance procession.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, Father" followed five minutes later by "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New; The Order of Mass (New Translation); and a leaflet with the parish notices and mass intentions for the week.

What musical instruments were played?
A small but real organ accompanied a choir of sorts. A tambourine was used when rehearsing but, praise God and his saints, did not sound during mass.

Did anything distract you?
Throughout, one of the choir attempted loudly to add her own harmony more or less down a third (her accuracy varied). The Dowager Duchess noted that the singers' voices fell short of angelic, sapping the life out of the songs, which made it difficult to join in. I was perturbed by soaring paper aeroplanes flung by children who ran riot during the eucharistic prayer.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle-of-the-road said mass with songs, celebrated versus populum. No smells, but sanctus bells chimed at the appropriate moments and the clergy wore tasteful Gothic vestments with a pinch of lace.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The deacon started with a nonsensical anecdote about leaving his typed homily at home on Saturday, with his wife having to dash back and get it (effectively admitting to recycling a homily)! He read from a script but managed to avoid talking monotone or akin to the female impersonation artists of fond memory, George Logan and Patrick Fyffe, and their elderly spinster personae known as Hinge and Bracket.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The prophecies of Jeremiah are a cause for rejoicing for the Christian people. We are in fact spiritual beings, and therefore need to find time for silence and time with Christ. It is there that he gathers us and prepares us for something greater, drawing us to himself. We should remember that society ignores this need for silence and presence of God. But the fact is, we cannot do anything for ourselves – we need Christ.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Singing a traditional Marian hymn after the dismissal.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
"Kumbaya" – the "other place"-esque trump card!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We had to leave quickly for our own gathering. The parish priest was standing at the door shaking hands with a smile as we left. Always a nice touch.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee seemed to be available in the former baptistery, but as mentioned we couldn't stay.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – The parish is exactly what it should be: a welcoming family parish. There is true faith. The young priest celebrates mass reverently. Unfortunately, the noise and music would drive me to distraction. I would attend a low mass here on Sundays, but I don't think there is one.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
If I could block out the choir, yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Dowager Duchess will remember trying to keep a straight face during the hellish singing. I shall remember feeling comfortable enough to receive communion on my knees.
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