Grace Evangelical Lutheran, Glendale, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Grace Evangelical Lutheran
Location: Glendale, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 10 April 2022, 10:30am

The building

The present structure, the congregation's third, dates from 2005 and is a modern take on a traditional church building. An enclosed entryway connects the church to the fellowship hall. One enters a spacious lobby furnished with chairs and an assortment of tables holding a variety of things. The sanctuary itself is also spacious and bright thanks to large clear-glass windows. Pews are angled to face a wooden altar behind which is a large stained glass window depicting a cross backed by sunbeams. The altar was draped with a red pendant and bore two vases of red flowers. The organ console is in an elevated area to the right, along with handbell stalls (but no handbells). The choir sang from 'ground level,' standing in front of the organ console.

The church

Their highly regarded parish school consists of grades kindergarten through eight and draws students from all over the surrounding area. The church sponsors a variety of social and spiritual groups, but they are not described on their website (despite a page replete with links that bring up nothing) and I couldn't get a good feel for what they might be. There are two services each Sunday.

The neighborhood

Glendale is a sprawling suburb to the north and west of central Phoenix. It features a quaint little downtown area full of antique shops, trendy restaurants and fashionable boutiques. The church is located in the downtown area just north of City Hall.

The cast

Both of the pastors, vested in black Geneva gown and red stole. One was correctly shod in black; the other incorrectly in brown – and he sat with his legs crossed to boot!

What was the name of the service?

Palm Sunday Service with Confirmation.

How full was the building?

I would estimate the sanctuary could hold about 400, and it was about seven-eighths full. A goodly mix of all ages, from one foot out of the cradle to one foot in the grave – men, women, and children of all shapes and sizes.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No. There were a few people standing or sitting about the lobby, but they all minded their own business.

Was your pew comfortable?

The padded pew was very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Some quiet visiting, but people sat quietly for the most part. One of the pastors was working the room, but he took no notice of me. (Admittedly I did not try to make eye contact.) The organist played some twiddly bits. Announcements were projected, e.g. 'Please take time for silent meditation,' 'Please silence mobile devices,' 'Assisted listening devices available,' 'Fussy children? Please take them to the Parents' Room [i.e., the cry room] in the rear.'

What were the exact opening words of the service?

'Good morning. Welcome to Grace.'

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Christian Worship, the hardbound official hymnal of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, was in the pews. This is a new hymnal, dated 2021. Everything we needed, though, was in a handout as well as projected. Hymn numbers were identified – but they needn't have bothered (read on!).

What musical instruments were played?

Electronic organ, nicely voiced and masterfully played. Violin and piano to accompany the anthem; a trumpet quartet to augment the organ during the hymns. There was a mixed choir of about 25 voices who sang an anthem and then – disappeared!

Did anything distract you?

The preponderance of what is known as North-Central dialect in American English – also called the Wisconsin accent – in both clergy and congregation. This is most prominent in the vowels, especially the flat 'a' sound – most notably 'Hosanna' to rhyme with 'Roseanna.'

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

It was the least happy-clappy, stiffest-upper-lip Palm Sunday observance I have ever witnessed. Six confirmands of high-school age, each wearing a white robe and a red boutonnière, processed in waving palm branches (full branches, not merely fronds), with expressions on their faces as if they were welcoming the deceased to a funeral, not the Lord to the Holy City, while the choir sang 'Hosanna! Hosanna!' and then left – to where I haven't a clue. Someone was singing the hymns, however, but not the congregation – I saw nary a mouth move. There was no choir loft – perhaps the choir were being piped in from another room. The congregation were given no palms, neither branches nor fronds. There were prayers and readings from scripture. There was no communion service today. I'll comment on the confirmation ceremony below – it was the one and only heavenly bit, in my opinion.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes, I think. When I went to look at my stopwatch when the pastor was finished, I saw that it hadn't been working.

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

2 — I really don't have a clue as to what the pastor was trying to say.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He preached on the gospel reading, Luke 19:28-40 (Jesus enters Jerusalem). I believe his message was that the details surrounding Jesus' entry into Jerusalem seem odd, just like it seems odd that we seek spiritual solutions for physical problems. But I didn't follow his drift at all.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The confirmation ceremony. The confirmands were asked to profess their faith by reciting the Apostles' Creed (saying they believed in the 'holy Christian church') and renewing their baptismal promises. Then each stepped forward and recited from memory a biblical verse of their choosing, after which the pastor laid hands on each and gave a blessing. It was really quite moving, even though one young man, bless his soul, forgot the text of the passage he chose and had to be prompted by the pastor.

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

Well, just about everything else. The disappearing choir – they didn't even stay to chant the psalm, let alone lead the hymns. At the beginning everyone was asked to greet someone they didn't know. I suppose I should be thankful that everyone apparently knew everyone else, as nothing at all happened in response to this request. I, of course, was invisible. The Lord's Prayer was the modern version, for whose existence there is absolutely no justification.

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

After the final blessing, we were asked to sit back down for the closing hymn while the clergy beat a hasty exit through a side door. After we listened in silence to the invisible voices singing the hymn, someone came out and began to read announcements. As for me, I ran screaming from the place – well, silently screaming, at least, in keeping with how the congregation handled hymns.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I saw no evidence of any. I headed for home as fast as the Amandamobile could take me without violating the speed limit, and made myself a bowl of tomato soup for lunch.

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

0 – I was gravely disappointed. Judging from their website, I was expecting a young, vibrant, active, welcoming congregation, and found none of that. I can't imagine any reason to go back.

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

This particular service? No, it did not.

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

The disappearing choir.

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