• Twelve Years in Sharrow – Rev Phillip Borkett
  • Twelve Years in Sharrow – Rev Phillip Borkett
  • Twelve Years in Sharrow – Rev Phillip Borkett
  • Twelve Years in Sharrow – Rev Phillip Borkett
  • Twelve Years in Sharrow – Rev Phillip Borkett

Twelve Years in Sharrow – Rev Phillip Borkett

This is a guest post by Phillip Borkett – a great friend of St Marys and of Sharrow, who has served as Minister at Highfield Trinity Church for twelve years.  The following text is a sermon given by Phillip at a joint service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity held at Cemetery Road Baptist Church on 15th January 2017.


Acts 17: 16-34

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim

to you.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and ev

erything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

The first time my wife Penny and I drove through Sharrow was almost exactly 12 years ago, January 2005; I  knew I was coming here as minster that September. It was Saturday afternoon, it was raining, crowds were converging on Bramall Lane, traffic was at a standstill, people were calling out to one another from car to car with cheery greetings, or maybe not so cheery.

Back in those heady days there was much optimism and inward investment. We had park rangers, street wardens, Sharrow Forum was expanding to explore new opportunities to work in the community, Mount Pleasant Park was to be remodelled and Lansdowne Estate refurbished, community groups were thriving, the Adventure playground was a key hub for young people, Sharrow school was to be rebuilt,  the Sure Start centre was a huge success, there were intense discussions about a new community hub based on Sharrow Lane, the new student complexes were bringing fresh faces to the area, restaurants shops were opening on London Road, the multi million pound Medina Mosque was being built as a beacon of inter faith understanding. Alongside this, the cultural heart of this town within a city was beating fast with music ringing out from converted mester’s workshops and annually from Mount Pleasant Park. And the churches continued their witness – individually and together, notably on Good Friday and before Christmas.

Twelve years later, much has changed; most of the investment from statutory sources has dried up, Surestart has closed, many of those optimistic plans have evaporated, the makeup of the community has changed as new residents have found refuge here, shops have closed, restaurants closed and opened, and closed. A new Chinese investment is underway on the corner of Bramall lane, I could go on. Yet still the heart of Sharrow beats, the heartbeats of culture, of faith and of community.

I have learnt a lot from my time here in Sharrow and from those who live work, worship and witness here. I am so grateful to you all for the belief you have in this place and for your openness to discover wat God is doing and to join in.

As I have been thinking about some of the things I have learnt and maybe some of the thoughts I would like to leave with you, I turned again to the passage we heard from Acts 17.

Having experienced opposition in Thessalonica and Beroea Paul is in to Athens to regroup and await arrival of Silas and Timothy before the journey continues. Paul doesn’t just have a break and do some sightseeing his encounter with people of Athens I believe has helped me to appreciate how we can and must relate to the society, the community in which we find ourselves.

Went where the people were

Paul started in the synagogue but didn’t stay there for long, we quickly find him in the market place because that is where people were. Not just shopping centre but place for debate and conversation. Paul went here deliberately because he was open to conversations with people who thought differently, had a world view that he didn’t share.

For me, two of the most significant things that we do as churches together is the Good Friday walk of witness following the cross and the Living Nativity on the moor (which seems to get earlier and earlier each year). I am old enough to remember a time certainly where I grew up in London, when the world stopped still on GF. The solemn procession through normally crowded streets was conducted in silence because there was just no one around. Now it is different, the streets are as busy as on any shopping day (including Sunday of course) and we have opportunities to meet people on the way. A few years ago we started giving hot cross buns with an explanation of what Good Friday means; we began going into shop, nail bars, hair salons and betting shops with a bun and some good news.

Likewise, the Living Nativity is a wonderful opportunity to meet people who know nothing or maybe just a little about the story of Christ’s coming. This year, dressed as a wise man (!) I had wonderful conversations with a devoted Catholic, a committed atheist, a strict Hassidic Jew and a faithful Muslim.

My prayer for churches together in Sharrow is that these opportunities will not just continue but increase. I sense a movement throughout the Christian world that now is the time when we need to be more like Paul and get out from our familiar places of worship and be where the people are; praise God it is happening among our churches already but may this grow and develop.

So we need to be church with people whether on streets, in shops, alongside weekend revellers, among the homeless at soup run, we are church when at school or college, in the queue for the doctor’s surgery, at work, on the bus

Respectful of their culture:

‘How religious you are’ Not you have got it wrong by worshipping … or thinking that. Looked for what he as a person of faith had in common with them. Over last years I have begun to realise that Spirituality is alive and present in many of our neighbours. I was fortunate to have a sabbatical two years ago, which enabled me to attend music festivals and to spend time engaging with popular culture. I discovered that many songs, many movements of popular culture, contain a real yearning for the deeper things of life, an understanding that a divine other exists. Time and time again I encountered words of Scripture, sayings of Jesus and even Christian doctrine repackaged for a contemporary audience in ways that the creators of the music would never have intended.

And here in Sharrow, with our rich diversity of culture, music, faith and ethnicity we have numerous examples of the importance of spirituality. Spirituality is woven through the wonderful Sharrow Festival through music, food, performing arts, through relationships as well as the specific contributions of our faith community and not forgetting the fantastic refreshment tent!

Paul with his amazing story of conversion and his clarity of thought, and even with his single-minded determination, was open to the spirituality of others: his reaction to the people of Athens is an important lesson for us all – he began where they were: not telling they had it wrong. Expressed a real interest in them ‘I looked carefully at your objects of worship.’

Cynics say that Christians only interested in what they can get out of others but here’s example of getting to know people first – genuine interest in things that matter to them. We might br tempted to condemn modern culture but I feel we need to appreciate it.

My prayer for churches together in Sharrow is that you will stay alert to the changing culture in our town within a city and explore fresh ways of engaging with this.

And dare I even say, being prepared to change because as a church we have encounter those who see the world and think differently from ourselves.

Made connections: Made the message relevant to the audience

What you worship as unknown, I proclaim to you. After showing interest and gaining trust he had right to get into a conversation and then make connections between their interest and his.  Star
ted from their philosophy. In which god is distant, multi-faceted and above all unknown.

For many years, there has been an argument about whether church should be relevant – I can remember that in my teens when seemed that ‘establishment’ was arguing against modern songs!  I think we have now gone beyond that; from what I know of each church here in Sharrow there is a real desire to meet today’s needs and bring the gospel afresh to a generation that hasn’t heard it. Even if sometimes there doesn’t always feel the energy to do it.

Yes, ultimately this is what we are about. Of course we must relate to others and be open to what we can learn from them, of course we must debate and engage with the community, we must be prepared to get our hands dirty in sacrificial service to those who are in need, those who are struggling, hungry, homeless and  marginalised, yes we must  care for the oppressed, the poor and the newcomer. But as Paul reminds us we do this because of Jesus

Paul listened and observed, and because of his respectful engagement he was given the opportunity to explain where he was coming from:

So they took Paul, brought him before the city council, the Areopagus, and said, “We would like to know what this new teaching is that you are talking about. Some of the things we hear you say sound strange to us, and we would like to know what they mean.

And their reaction was realistic just as is the reaction of people today: we discover

  • Some scoffed.
  • Some wanted more debate.
  • Some believed

My prayer for churches together in Sharrow is that as we engage with our amazing community, we may continue, through the presence of the Holy Spirit to have the confidence in the message of hope, love salvation and change that is at the beating heart of who we are, and that this heart beat might continue to be the life force of this diverse, multicultural, ever changing and spiritual community, this town within a city

Paul brought the message to the heart of Athens by relating the gospel to a poem, that was familiar to the citizens of the day. I finish with a poem that should be familiar to every citizen of Sharrow because it’s on a wall in London road for all to see. A poem that sums up the essential nature of our community and I think offers a cha
llenge to us as the body of Christ to consider how we might continue to engage with the people of Sharrow;



Many faces, different races
These are the places where nations unite.
Colour, vibrancy, people together

Look around and celebrate
The community starts within you,
Each voice speaks multicultural words,
Long may it continue.
Where we get on with our neighbours
Though we’re not all the same.
And it’s good to be different
We need more compassion
We need more kindness
Toward every nation.

A tiny world in miniature
a wonderful mélange of cultures,
a superb melting pot
of hope for all our futures.

Long stories not short readings

A Christmas Community Storytelling of Two Baby Boys

two baby boys

The Bible is full of long stories that jump the section headings, and that don’t parcel up neatly into the short lengths that you hear read in a typical service. A box set rather than a poem, a feature film rather than a tweet. Stories that were whispered, gossiped and giggled from person to person long before they were more formally told in places of worship, let alone written down.

At St Mary’s we are experimenting with biblical storytelling, giving time and space to a sweep of a story. Our first storytelling took place on Maundy Thursday, when we told the story of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to Easter morning, all from the gospel of Luke. The ‘telling’ is important, direct speech using un-edited words from the bible, learnt by heart and told to the listeners without the props of book or lectern. It has an urgency, an ‘I was there’ quality. We share the telling, so the story passes between different people, quieter and louder voices, the flamboyant and the reflective, old, young, women, men. In the month or two before the storytelling event, each storyteller ‘lives’ with their bit of the story, not just learning the words but working through decisions of meaning, emphasis and emotion. And then it comes together and we are all both listeners and tellers, taking turns on the floor, hearing the story emerge from our individual efforts. It’s good to finally have an audience too – fresh ears – catching different echoes and themes, as the story shifts between the famous passages and those often passed over.

This December we are telling the Christmas stories from Luke and Matthew, but with a twist from the usual selection – not one but two baby boys. They were cousins of sorts, born six months apart. Both had angels announce their birth and gave them their names, but one was a longed for child of older parents, while the other came at an awkward time. The son of a priest, when John grew up he lived in extreme poverty in the desert, gathering followers as he challenged people to turn away from their sins and baptising them in the river. After an unconventional birth story (more angels, shepherds, wise men), surviving a death warrant and spending a few years as a refugee in Egypt, Jesus grew up quietly as the son and apprentice of the village carpenter. Until, thirty years later, when he met up with John at the River Jordan.

We look forward to sharing our Christmas Community Storytelling with you. Fifteen voices, re-telling one story. No singing. No sermon. Words straight from the bible.

4-5pm Sunday 4th December. St Marys’ Church, Bramall Lane, Sheffield.  

Gift Day 2016

There are many activities supported by the church and it is part of St Marys’ mission to be welcoming and to provide opportunities for everyone to get involved.

The activities of the church include Light Factory, Messy Church, family choir, links with St Marys Community Centre, links with Porter Croft School and the local Tenants and Residents Association and a contribution to the Diocese and the wider church through what is known as the Common Fund. We enjoy building our community through shared lunches, hospitality to strangers and participation in Timebuilders with members of St Marys Community Centre. The meditation group and small groups allow participants a space to invite God into their lives and to find out about the message of the Bible. Multi-faith links allow us to work with people of different faiths to further God’s message of peace and our mission partnership with other churches allows us to combine our resources to achieve more by co-operation than we can achieve alone.

The financial contributions from all of the different Church of England churches in the Diocese to the Common Fund mean that the Diocese can provide training for Pastoral Workers, Worship Leaders, Readers and Pioneer Ministers who enable us all to contribute to the mission of the church.

The work of the church follows a plan to transform our society and the world for the better.

71p in every pound given to St Marys is spent on mission. The rest is spent on heating an lighting the church, buying resources such as books and candles, paying ministry expenses as well as other miscellaneous expenses, such as the cost of advertising for a new vicar.

We will have a shortfall of just over £2,000 in 2016.

This is the equivalent of £1 per person per week.

The New Testament says that we should give in proportion to our income, in a regular and disciplined way, in a way that is realistic to the need, in secret and with joy.

We are grateful for all contributions to the work of St Marys and we are not asking people to give more than what they prayerfully consider to be the right amount. We just ask that people review their giving regularly, and that may mean that some are able to give more but it may also mean for others that they have to reduce their giving in accordance with their circumstances

Whether we currently give financially or not, this is a time of year for us all to review what we give to the work of God’s kingdom, through St Marys.

If you would like to contribute to the mission of St Mary’s church you can commit to regular giving through cash in the plate, through a weekly envelope scheme which is run by Margaret, or by standing order through your bank which can be set up using the forms on your chairs and handed to Angela.

Like any organisation with financial obligations it is important that we budget as well as we can, and giving by standing order really helps us to do this as we have a better idea of our likely income for the year. If you complete the Gift Aid section on the form, this means St Marys can claim an extra £2.50 for every £10 you give.

Today, for our Gift Day, if you want to make a one-off donation, please use the Gift Day envelope on your chair. And of course, it doesn’t just have to be today that you make your gift. If you aren’t in a position to make a gift today but you want to do so then any time in the next few weeks is fine. Again, if you complete your Gift Aid details, we can claim an extra £2.50 for each £10 you donate.

If you have any questions, please speak to Tom, Angela, or Margaret.

  • TimeBuilders Summer Playschemes
  • TimeBuilders Summer Playschemes
  • TimeBuilders Summer Playschemes
  • TimeBuilders Summer Playschemes

TimeBuilders Summer Playschemes

TimeBuilders is about finding ways of doing things that don’t need money.

Because money has been tight in recent years most of the summer playschemes for families on low incomes have been cut. So people are sitting at home doing nothing instead of getting out and making community happen.

Our TimeBuilder playschemes have been running for the last 3 years and the formula is simple: take an empty space, mix the time and talents that people want to give, sprinkle a few Time Credits, mix in a Bouncy Castle and our Food Hub cafe and you’ve created  a DIY playscheme. This week over 100 families came and had fun, brilliantly supported by a team of cheerful TimeBuilders


  • Introducing: St Mary’s Cafe
  • Introducing: St Mary’s Cafe
  • Introducing: St Mary’s Cafe
  • Introducing: St Mary’s Cafe

Introducing: St Mary’s Cafe

At St Mary’s, the café is a hub for people from all walks of life to sit and eat together.

Volunteers at the Timebuilders project work together to cook up healthy, affordable meals for local people  If you’ve earned a pocketful of timecredits, you can exchange one for a main meal and a drink with your fellow volunteers (find out more about Timebuilders here: http://timebuilders.wordpress.com).

Much of the delicious food provided in our café comes from Fare Share, an organisation that aims to tackle the twin problems of food poverty and food waste.

  • 5.8 million people in the UK live in ‘deep poverty’, making it hard for them to afford every day essentials, including food.
  • At the same time, 3.9 million tonnes of food is wasted every year by the food and drink industry.

They estimate that 10% of this is surplus and fit for consumption, enough food  for 800 million meals.  As a busy community centre in the heart of the city, we’re well placed to provide people with an opportunity to benefit from Fare Share.

As well as doing our bit to upcycle waste food, we supplement our supplies with produce from the growing hub, carefully cultivated by the ‘Speak and Grow’ global gardening group.  Often the vegetables, fruit and herbs in your meal were harvested just a couple of hours before being served.

St Mary’s Café operates on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 11.30-2.00pm.

Main meals are £2.50/1 timecredit

Soft drinks, coffee and snacks are also served.