Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: Northminster Presbyterian
Location: Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 20 May 2018, 11:00am
A trim, tidy modern structure dating from 1985. One enters a large lobby off which opens the sanctuary. The sanctuary is square, with a pitched wood ceiling and wood paneling behind the altar. Choir seating is in the rear. In keeping with Pentecost, the altar and pulpit were festooned with red hangings, and a predominately red flower arrangement sat on the floor in front of the altar.
Being that their website is outdated, I was unable to learn anything about their current ministries and outreaches. The bulletin was no help.
They are located on North 35th Avenue just south of Thunderbird Road, a working class residential area. There was nothing particularly interesting about the area that caught my attention.
The pastor was identified only as Pastor Vicki. Nowhere was her last name given. An announcement was made that next Sunday will be her last at Northminster. The bulletin listed Adrienne Wells as leading the service; however, the first thing she said was, "I'm not Adrienne Wells." She gave her name, but I didn't catch it. Vitaly Serebriakov, pianist in residence, provided musical accompaniment. The pastor was resplendent in a floor length red dress with red knitted shawl and a white pendant around her neck; the others wore plainer attire.
What was the name of the service?No name was given for the service
How full was the building?
There were about 100 chairs and I counted exactly 35 people. All elderly.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Several people shook my hand, introduced themselves, and said "Nice to have you with us" and other such greetings.
Was your pew comfortable?
Conference type chair; it was adequate.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of greeting and visiting. At 11.00 the pianist struck up a prelude, followed by the choir singing an opening anthem.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Thank you, choir. Good morning and happy birthday!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration and a handout.
What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano. There was a choir of nine people: six old ladies, two old gents, and a college aged boy. A praise band, consisting of electric ukulele, electric guitar, some sort of percussion instrument (two short hollow metal tubes that clicked together), and a vocalist, sang two numbers at the offertory (more on which below).
Did anything distract you?
One of the ladies in the choir had a large service dog with her it might have been a St Bernard that did its best to sing along with the choir. We sang the obligatory Old Hundredth doxology after the collection was taken up, and it must have taken the dog by surprise, as it began to howl and continued to howl throughout. It also howled during the concluding hymn, but for good reason (see below).
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A standard hymn sandwich type of service. The hymns were old chestnuts, with the exception of the praise band numbers. We prayed the Lord's Prayer saying "forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us" (I had never heard that before). There was no communion service today. Strangely, although Pentecost was mentioned several times and most people wore red, the readings had nothing to do with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples or the preaching in tongues.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – I was going to score the pastor higher but changed my mind. It has been said that every good sermon has three exit paths and that the preacher should always take the first. But Pastor Vicki actually preached three sermons, changing abruptly in mid-stream from one topic to the next and then on to a third. She began preaching at the pulpit and referred often to notes. Suddenly, as she segued into her second topic, she abandoned her notes and began walking about the sanctuary. I actually thought she got better as she went along. She has a soft, mellow voice; unfortunately, it did not benefit from a sound system that emphasized mid tones at the expense of treble and bass. She was hard to understand at first, but became easier to understand as she left the pulpit and her notes behind and became more relaxed and conversational.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
[Sermon 1] The first Pentecost coincided with the Jewish feast of First Fruits, for which pilgrims from all over had come to Jerusalem. It was an ideal time for them to hear a new message, like nothing they had ever heard before and all in their own language! It was the Holy Spirit speaking, and he had good news news about living life differently. God, through the Holy Spirit, had equipped and empowered the Church to shine like a light and walk in the light all the time, not just on Sunday when we get together. [Sermon 2] Ephesians 5:22-33 is one of the most misunderstood passages in the Bible. Paul was not saying that wives must be submissive to their husbands; the submission is voluntary. [Sermon 3] Women who are called to the ministry are not beating the drum of women's lib. Pastors are not bosses. Finally, Pastor Vicki attempted to tie all three sermons together by concluding with "The Church would never have received this message if it were not for Pentecost." Frankly I didn't follow her logic.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The only thing I can say is that it was heavenly to see everyone (well, most everyone) so smartly dressed in red.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
One of the numbers the praise band sang was the dreaded "Shine Jesus Shine."
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The concluding hymn was "O for a thousand tongues" but the handout gave the wrong number. The pianist struck up the number given in the handout, and the pastor said, "Oh no, that's the wrong one. I like that one, though." The pianist then struck up another number, but the pastor said, "No, that's not the right one either." After several more false starts, he finally found the music to "O for a thousand tongues" but we only sang two verses! And the choir member's service dog howled throughout. After so many false starts I felt like howling myself.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Refreshments had not been mentioned, and I saw no evidence that any had been laid out.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I don't live in this neighborhood and it would be something of a drive for me. I liked the friendliness of the people but I am bothered by the apparent age spread of the congregation. Mind you, I'm no spring chicken, but a congregation full of old people is not my idea of a vibrant, thriving church. If they are to survive, they have to attract young people. And before they can attract young people, they have to attract adults of childbearing age. I saw neither.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I did not feel particularly moved by this service.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The singing guide dog.