Epiphany, Tempe, Arizona

Church of the Epiphany, Tempe, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Church of the Epiphany
Location: Tempe, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 18 September 2011, 10:00am

The building

A modern brick and metal edifice with two wings at angles to a copper-clad cylinder. Inside, the pews are slanted downward to the altar, which has a lighted cross behind it. Behind the altar there is a Lady chapel inside the copper cylinder. Along the side walls are stations of the cross consisting of glass etchings on wood backgrounds – very simple, but lovely. To the right side of the altar is a dove and nimbus on the brick wall; to the left are the choir seats and the organ. A school and parish hall complete the campus.

The church

Their ministries and outreaches are all well documented on their website. Special mention goes to a kids' cafe to give children a safe place to go after school to get a nutritious snack and help with homework.

The neighborhood

Tempe is a middle class suburb to the southeast of Phoenix. It is home to Arizona State University, and downtown Tempe is very much a college town. The church is located some distance from downtown in a quiet family neighborhood near the 101 freeway and off Price Road (going south).

The cast

The Revd Ronald G. Poston, rector, celebrated the eucharist. He was assisted by the Revd Dr Patricia Dwyer, who conducted the service up to and including the gospel, whereupon the rector took over for the rest of the service. I had never seen it done this way before. David Bauer served as eucharistic minister. There were also four servers, male and female.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?

About two-thirds full, with about 150 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. Greeters were stationed at the doors to wish everyone a good morning. Inside, several people said hello and welcome.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. Unpadded wooden benches, but there was a lot of room and you could stretch your feet out under the front pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very talkative. Many parishioners were returning from summer vacation and had a lot of catching up to do with each other.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning. Today, please join us in the parish hall after church for a vestry meeting with treats and coffee."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The bulletin was very thorough and extensive and had the whole service printed out. However, the Hymnal 1982 was used for the hymns mentioned in the order of service.

What musical instruments were played?

Just an organ, a nicely voiced electronic instrument. There was also a choir of about a dozen men and women.

Did anything distract you?

A father and his teenage son sitting in front of us looked very much alike and were casually but nicely dressed. It was refreshing to see a teenager who took pride in his appearance. As the gospel was being read, an elderly lady became rather vocally upset over something and had to be gently eased out of church.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

It was a dignified, prayerful and respectful service throughout. No bells or smells, although there were candles on the altar. The clergy were vested in albs and stoles; the acolytes in albs. We sang all the usual parts, although there was no Gloria despite it not being a penitential season. The hymns were all tried-and-true old favorites.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

10 – The rector was clear and concise and did not digress in his sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

"God Reigns." The rector began by recounting how St Paul's Chapel in New York City, directly across the street from Ground Zero, was not damaged in the least during the terrible events of 9/11. In the midst of that tragedy, little victories were seen. God was in the midst of it all. God reminds his people that we are not forgotten. In today's gospel reading, Matthew 20:1-16 (the parable of the workers in the vineyard), we see that justice has nothing to do with the amount of work done. The vineyard owner had an "anti-entitlement" business plan. God also has a plan, whereby he gives his grace, justice and mercy to all, especially to the least and the lost: to those who earned it first as well as to the ones who came late. But like with every peal of the bell at the church at Ground Zero, God Reigns.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The choir, small though it was, sang beautifully. Mendelssohn's "Grant us Peace", "From Glory to Glory" (St Kervene) and "Lord, Enthroned in Heavenly Splendor" (Bryn Calfaria) were especially awe inspiring. The choirmaster also has a spectacular voice and I enjoyed listening to him.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The altar servers seemed bored and detached. Had they been less bored, they would have selected more appropriate footwear from their wardrobes other than flip-flops and sneakers. But perhaps the church doesn't enforce a dress code, as the eucharistic minister was wearing cowboy boots beneath his alb! And all good Shipmates know that the Baby Jesus cries when he doesn't hear the Gloria sung when prescribed.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

We were politely shuttled to the hall where sandwiches, cakes, coffee and beverages were on offer. As we ate, the church wardens gave a short presentation telling what the church was working on. We sat at a table with two other parishioners who introduced themselves and made conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Good coffee, from what I was told (I drink tea). There was also some juice and soda. The cakes and sandwich makings were very good.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

9 – I could see myself very happy here. They have a nice congregation who do a lot of things. Being passive is not my cup of tea, so I would definitely join in their community works.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

The commitment of the people and the enthusiasm. This church smiles and the parishioners seem genuinely to like one another.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

I think the story about the church at Ground Zero was most worth remembering.

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