One enters the property through a plain adobe-style lych-gate to discover a plain, low adobe-style building. The interior is likewise low and plain, with an altar in the center and cushioned metal chairs arranged on all sides. There is a small platform at one end backed by a white curtain, and music stands galore. A grand piano is tucked off to the side. Video monitors and speakers are mounted at various locations.
They describe themselves as ‘an Anglican community of Love, Life, and Mission.’ Their several ministries are listed on their website. These include something called ‘Surge School,’ which appears to be a book discussion group although no details were given. There are two services each Sunday. I watched the Maundy Thursday service via their Facebook feed.
Tempe (pronounced tem-PEE) is an eastern suburb of Phoenix and home to Arizona State University. The church is located on Guadalupe Road near Country Club Way, and the area appears to be primarily residential with a scattering of strip malls, fast food joints and medical offices. Nothing of particular interest stands out.
The rector, assisted by an acolyte and lay readers. An unidentified gentleman in street clothes preached the sermon; I could not tell from the photos on their website who he might have been. The rector was vested in alb and white stole; the acolyte in cassock and surplice.
What was the name of the service?Maundy Thursday Special Service.
How full was the building?
There were probably about 30 chairs in the room. There were people present, but the camera did not focus on them so I don’t know how many there were. Those whom I could see appeared to be a young crowd. The on-line counter showed 8 at its highest point.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Was your pew comfortable?
My desk chair was its usual comfortable self.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I sat in silent expectation. Nothing was happening on-screen. Being that the service was live as well as streamed, I would have appreciated seeing what was going on in the room – how people entered, how they interacted with each other, etc.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The rector, acolyte and musicians entered, and the musicians started playing some strummy tune with the vocalist singing along, but I couldn’t understand the words and nothing was projected. When that was done, the rector read the George Herbert poem, ‘Love bade me welcome.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Nothing was available for download, although those present did appear to be holding a service leaflet in their hands. Some, but not all, parts were projected.
What musical instruments were played?
Digital keyboard, electric guitar, electric bass. There was also a female vocalist. The grand piano remained closed and covered.
Did anything distract you?
The rector was wearing what appeared to be brown suede shoes with white laces. The acolyte was properly shod. The rector bears a strong resemblance to the actor Sean Penn.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A folksy eucharist – a mixture of what we know as Rites I and II in the Episcopal Church, with some home-grown variations. The Gloria Patri was tacked onto the psalm. I was surprised to see hugging and kissing during the exchange of peace, although everyone did appear to be masked. The washing of feet was not done. No bells or incense. No ‘little elevation’ at the Per Ipsum. The Prayer of Humble Access was recited before communion. I found the distribution of communion to be most interesting: The rector and acolyte both donned gloves. People received communion by taking an individual cuppie containing the Host from a table on which the rector placed it, and another cuppie of the Precious Blood from another table on which the acolyte placed it. At the conclusion of the service, the altar was stripped as one of the musicians chanted Psalm 22 in a clear tenor voice, unaccompanied, and the Sacrament was removed to the altar of repose.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 — I thought the preacher tried to stuff a little too much into his sermon. His message would have been clearer if he had concentrated on fewer points.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples that what they had believed for thousands of years was being fulfilled in him, but that he was also giving them a new covenant. Jesus is present with us here in the sacrament of Holy Communion. St Paul said that we should examine ourselves before receiving communion. When the preacher examines himself (he said), he doesn’t always like what he sees – nor probably do we. Scripture is full of examples of people who felt unworthy in God’s presence. But God always provides a way for us. One such way is the sacrament of Holy Communion. When we sin, we lose God. But Jesus through his Body and Blood heals the scars of sin. If we had been present at the Last Supper, how would we have responded when Jesus looked at us and spoke to us? Do we hear his voice tonight? Tonight, let us repent of not loving him the way he loved us, and then let us receive him.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The stripping of the altar, and the chanting of Psalm 22, was goosebump-raising.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The folksy, feel-good, simplistic, repetitive style of music they appear to favor here sounded sweet, but it is not the style of music I prefer to hear in church. I don’t begrudge them it, however, as it obviously appeals to them.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People left in silence, as is prescribed.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I did not snack.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 — I would not rule out another visit completely, as the service had a quiet dignity about it even though the musical style they favor is not to my liking.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The clever way in which communion was handled – and the goosebump-raising stripping of the altar.