A large shopping mall type structure that one could mistake for a supermarket were it not for big bold letters over the entrance proclaiming Calvary Chapel Surprise. One enters a spacious lobby with information counter, bookstall, coffee bar, tables and chairs, and leather sofas. The auditorium is large, with brown and dark gold walls and brown carpeting. There is a stage with lectern and musical instruments. Video screens hang on either side.
There are dozens of ministries described on their website - far too many to summarize here. Unique, however (at least I've never seen one before), is an on-line spiritual gifts test that one may take to determine which ministries are best suited for the individual. They have evening worship services on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and two morning services on Sundays.
They are located on Greenway Road near Reems Road. Surprise, the northwestern-most suburb of Phoenix, was named when a woman who owned a large tract of land in the area decided to develop it for residential use. "But if it ever amounts to anything, it'll be a surprise," she is reported to have mused. Today, Surprise is primarily a middle class bedroom community along with several senior citizen enclaves. There is still quite a bit of undeveloped land within the city limits that is rapidly falling to the developer's backhoe.
No names were given, but judging from their website photos, Brett Bergstrom, senior pastor, preached; and Brad Eberly, assistant pastor, made announcements and gave the opening remarks.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Service.
How full was the building?
Completely full. Lots of young adults, families, teenagers. Some middle-aged folk.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman at the main entrance said, "Hello." An usher at the entrance to the auditorium also said, "Hello." One or two others shook my hand and said, "Hello, welcome."
Was your pew comfortable?
Conference room style chairs. Comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of greeting, kissing, shaking hands, talking. A countdown clock was projected onto the screens and a welcome video was shown.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Let's stand and put our hands together for the Lord Jesus."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The New American Standard Bible was in the seats. Words to the songs were projected. There was no service leaflet.
What musical instruments were played?
A group of ten musicians sang and played keyboard, an assortment of guitars, and drums (enclosed in the obligatory Plexiglas).
Did anything distract you?
A girl covered head to toe in tattoos was wearing a very tight and very skimpy t-shirt that, shall we say, highlighted her pectoral anatomy. Lettering on the t-shirt read, "I'm way up, I feel blessed." The lyrics to one of the songs began, "When the loudest voice is lying" and I wondered how many of those present had voted for that lying loudmouth.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Couldn't be happier, couldn't be clappier. It was the standard worship followed by announcements, followed by sermon. The music was the feel-good Christian rock type, to which everyone was swaying and clapping and waving their arms. Each number was applauded, as were several of the announcements. The songs were interspersed with short devotional messages or prayers. At the meet and greet, we were asked to stand up and encourage somebody in the Lord - "Your'e gonna see them forever!"
Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes I think. The pastor prefaced his sermon with a message about how the city of Surprise had grown over the years and how God intended Calvary Chapel to be at the center of that growth. When we first moved here, he said, there were two gas stations; now there are four Walmarts. (He didn't convince me, though, that God had put the Walmarts there.) I wasn't sure if I should be timing that or not. Then he read the scriptural passage for the day, and I started timing at that point.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – After finally leaving God and Walmart behind, Pastor Bergstrom got really good. His style was natural and relaxed, and he used no notes. His message was clear and convincing.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The pastor's text was Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan. We're all on a journey and subject to being set upon by thieves at any moment. At present, Satan has taken control of the world: a thief, a murderer, a destroyer. The paths that Satan leads us down all end up with us lying on the side of the road, beaten and bleeding. When we see someone in such need, will we cross over to the other side like the priest and the Levite in the parable? "I'm in a hurry; I don't want to get involved. It's a busy road with lots of traffic; someone else will come along to help." Or do we show compassion? Compassion is not mere pity or sympathy - it's the consciousness of distress coupled with the desire to alleviate it. Yes, it will inconvenience me, it may even cause me discomfort but I'm gonna fix it; I'm gonna make it right! We are all hopelessly lost because of sin, but Jesus did something about it. That's the ultimate example of compassion. We are surrounded by people in torment, but Jesus said, "Come to me and I will give you rest." Compassion is not natural - its supernatural! So what will our response be? It's our choice to make. We can be used by God, or we can cross over to the other side of the road. Are we ready to do God's work?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sermon, without a doubt.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
By now I'm used to the phenomenon of rock concert as church. But I had never before experienced comedy club as church. The assistant pastor's opening remarks and announcements were made in the style of a comedy club act, complete with jokes, snarky comments, and the resulting snickers and guffaws from the audience - oops, I mean congregation. For example, in announcing an upcoming conference on marriage, he asked, "How many of you men are interested in bringing your wives?" Only a few hands went up, to which he remarked, "What a bunch of chickens!" (Snicker, guffaw, tee-hee from the congo.)
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The pastor ended his sermon with an altar call, and added: "Then we're going to pray some, and worship some more." I knew that by worship he meant listen to some more feel-good Christian rock, so I left as the lights were dimmed and everyone stood to pray. As I exited, a woman held the door for me and said, "God bless you."
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I had sampled the pre-service coffee and found it undrinkable. I had only taken half a cup but ended up pouring most of it out. After leaving, I noticed a McDonalds just across the street and headed over there for a quick lunch. After finishing, I saw that the church parking lot was beginning to empty out and that several cars were making the same beeline for McDonalds that I had.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – I would go back to hear another sermon if Pastor Bergstrom's preaching is always that good, but rock concert as church (and certainly comedy club as church) are just not my style. I don't begrudge it to this congregation if it's what floats their boats - they certainly seemed into it all and very appreciative.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The sermon did, but nothing else.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The exodus to McDonalds.