A large, modern stone building on a campus of classrooms, offices and meeting halls. The interior is theater-like, with cocoa brown the predominant color. On the stage was a Wild West set, part (it was announced) of an upcoming children's program.
They have all the usual ministries characteristic of a large charismatic church, all described in detail on their website. Special mention goes to mission trips that they sponsor to remote places such as Belize and Namibia. They are known in the Phoenix area for their drive-through prayer booth, a tent set up in their driveway where people can, from the comfort of their cars, speak and pray with a volunteer. They have two services each Sunday plus a Saturday evening service and various activities during the week.
The church is at Central and Glendale Avenues, north of Phoenix's downtown area. This part of Central Avenue features large upscale private homes set back from the street amid green, leafy surroundings.
David Stockton, associate pastor, preached and led the prayers. The service itself was led by an unnamed gentleman. I tried to identify him from staff photos on their website, but the photos chop off the tops of everyone's head, and, as the worship leader was balding, I couldn't recognize him from his face alone. Likewise, the musicians were unnamed.
What was the name of the service?Worship Service.
How full was the building?
I counted room for about 500. There were about 150 present, pretty well spread out. Many teenagers, many young couples, some older people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes - standard cushioned pew.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quiet at first. A group of people at the front of the church appeared to be meditating. When they finished, the noise level increased appreciably as modernistic musical improvisations were played over the PA system. Announcements, followed by "spiritual graffiti" ("Give thanks", "The Word is born", "Fill me, God", etc.) were flashed on a screen, along with a countdown clock.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"How's everyone here tonight?"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Holy Bible, New International Version, was in the pews. There was a handout listing upcoming events but no order of service. Words to the songs were flashed on the screen.
What musical instruments were played?
Acoustic guitar and "drum". I say "drum" in quotes because it was a wooden box that the drummer beat with his hands as he sat on top of it. There was a female vocalist who sang duets with the guitarist.
Did anything distract you?
A young couple sitting in front of me kept passing notes back and forth on an iPad - something to do with a party menu or shopping list, as I saw "cream cheese" and "tarts" written on the screen when I peeked.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Lots of clapping, hand waving and arm extending. The warm-up music lasted 15 minutes and consisted almost entirely of uninspiring, unmusical lite Christian rock. Some people sang along, but most didn't. Amid it all, I was surprised to hear "Be thou my vision", which was actually done quite nicely. There was a stand and greet, during which we were asked to tell each other our names. The service ended with communion (see the heavenly bits below).
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Pastor Stockton spoke clearly and pleasantly without using any notes. His sermon was well organized and persuasive. I was ready to give him a 9, but I thought it went on a bit too long (hence the 7).
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was 1 Samuel 16-20 (Jonathan defeats the Philistines against heavy odds). The Philistines set up an enemy encampment in the heart of Israel, and the Israelites chose to live with it. This was not the way things were supposed to be. Jonathan showed bravery by trusting in God - he attacked the Philistines against all odds and won! Bravery is rare these days, but it is possible with God's help. Be brave! Trust in God, and act on that trust.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Pastor Stockton extended the bravery metaphor into the communion service. Jesus was brave, he said, by taking on sin and death and conquering them. The proof is in his Resurrection. He invited us to spend time with Jesus by partaking of the meal that only Jesus could have provided. We did so by coming forward to help ourselves to a matzoh cracker and a wee cuppie of grape juice. I had never seen communion done in quite this way, and I thought it was heavenly.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The iPad couple in front of me! Also, although the worship leader used a mike, he spoke softly and indistinctly, with the result that he couldn't always be understood. He needs to take a course in elocution.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After communion was over, the worship leader issued an altar call of sorts, inviting those who were brave enough to accept Jesus as their savior to come forward. Most people left at this point - I didn't see anyone step forward. The worship leader had said earlier that he noticed several newcomers in the congregation and was looking forward to meeting them, but I didn't see any effort on his part (or anyone else's) to do so.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was a bake sale to support one of the upcoming mission trips. Brownies and assorted cookies were available for assorted prices. I bought some cookies, and the woman who took my money said, "Thank you for supporting our cause." Nice touch, I thought. There was nothing to drink, though. I got the impression that refreshments are not usually available.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – I was glad I had come, but this type of service is not what I prefer.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
"Be thou my vision" I've been humming it as I write.