There’s a renewed sense of optimism for a Sheffield city centre church as more people are coming to worship in the congregation.
St Matthew’s Church is based on Carver Street and has been busy welcoming visitors and new members whilst it progresses with its Regenerate project. Numbers rose in the congregation by 10% in 2021 and 28% in 2022. There’s an average of around 100 people on a Sunday attending between the two masses that are held.
The Churchwardens at St Matthew’s are Stephen Linskill, who has been with the church since the age of five and is also a Sacristan, and Stuart Barfield, who has been in the role for two years and has lived in Sheffield for a decade.
Stuart says the growth in numbers has been persistent across all of the services taking place:
“It’s been really reassuring to see and encouraging that we are reaching more people. There are lots of reasons why that might be the case: we’re fortunate to be in the middle of a city centre, so we have a lot of people walking in and we’re open every day. We have a mass every day, which I think encourages people to visit. We do get some people who come in and pray when the church is empty, which I think they really appreciate.”
Stephen agrees and thinks there’s potential for even more people to join the church in the coming months and years:
“I think we are very different being a non-suburban church and we actually have the potential for the population in the parish to increase leaps and bounds because of the new buildings springing up around us. Where we are is almost a focal point in Sheffield these days. The focus has sort of changed over the years and I think this probably the most live part of the city centre!
“There’s a real diversity in the congregation. People from all over the world attend our services, but there’s also a real mix in ages as well. I think a lot of people find the style of worship here similar to what they’re used to.”
One of the challenges faced by churches across the country was the Covid-19 pandemic when restrictions put a limit on how services could be run. This was no different for St Matthew’s, with a groundswell of fellowship eagerly returning to worship there once it was possible, as Stuart explains:
“We knew during the lockdown that obviously we had to be closed for a period of time. But as soon as we were able to, we would reopen and subject to the restrictions that had to be put in place. We were live streaming services during that time as a lot of other places were as well. I think people really needed the church at that time and being able to be there for them as much as possible really helped.”
As an Anglo-Catholic church, St Matthew’s describes itself as placing the Eucharist at the heart of their worship, which “is very similar to that of wider Catholic Church. The words and prayers in our liturgy are the same, and the use of bells and incense creates a more profound and enhanced experience of worship.”
Stuart feels the composition of the services is one of the key reasons for their popularity, as well as the general location of the church:
“Something I see as an advantage of being catholic in the universal sense of the word is that you can walk into this church and feel not dissimilar to a church on the continent. It’s one of the things people find homely and sort of familiar.”
Stephen adds it’s important to reflect the values of St Matthew’s to whoever is attending, with the Anglo-Catholic makeup of the church vital in that:
“I think the visual component of our services is important and retaining the eastward facing for our principal services is very uplifting. We’ve always been a church with a high through-point due to the student population, who do some marvellous things. However, we do also have to reinforced the renewed core of the church as we’re mindful students may eventually move on, so it’s about helping the core people as well as attracting new members.”
The work of retired and assisting clergy has been crucial in the church’s ability to do mass every day, and the team pride themselves on the warm welcome given to anyone visiting.
Stuart says the workload associated with a growing church can be challenging, but it’s a challenge to be embraced:
“We’re always going to get a transient population because of student numbers, but part of what we do is encourage faith in people who then move to other areas. We’ve had a few people here who have gone on to be ordained, which is great to see. People moving through here is inevitable, but we want a strong continuity as well which I’m confident will continue. We have a really good team here of our Vicar Father Grant Naylor and our existing priests, along with our churchwardens and our parish nurses (Michaela Suckling and Marjorie Skidmore), who are a key part of our mission.
“I think we should also recognise that the strong, clear and distinctive Catholic ethos definitely appeals to many, as well as prioritising the mass and confession over seeking to follow the spirit of the age. I think people find that authenticity attractive – sometimes challenging, but ultimately relevant to their day to day lives.”
There’s optimism for the future with St Matthew’s Regenerate project, which is aiming to improve the facilities at the church and enhance the general building itself. This will include plans for the redevelopment of the nave and work on bringing the structure of the church up to scratch and fit for mission.
Stephen thinks the new buildings being constructed nearby will be a help rather than a hindrance:
“Once the external building work is done the surrounding areas will look a lot more pleasant, plus we have plans to improve access to the church. I think a lot more people will move here and come to see the new buildings, so I hope they’ll take a look at St Matthew’s and hopefully join us as well.”
You can find out more about St Matthew’s and the work taking place at the church here.