Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: St Luke's
Location: Sedona, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Friday, 10 April 2009, 9:00am
A low, flat building with terraced bell tower and wide projecting eaves supported by posts, in the Spanish mission style. The church sits in a pleasant walled garden with fountains, shrubbery and benches. The grounds offer a splendid view of the uniquely beautiful Sedona landscape. The interior is plain and tiny, with white walls, a wood beam ceiling, clear glass windows, and a small eastward facing altar. The altar bore a paisley frontal and held two unlit candles and a crucifix hidden beneath a purple cloth. The tabernacle door stood open, revealing the empty interior.
St Luke's was founded in 1987 as a response to (quoting from their website) "the instability and conflict" within the Episcopal Church "promulgated by its denial of Biblical morality and the opening up of its ordained ministry to ill-equipped and/or ineligible men and women." They believe that "a misunderstanding of the call to corporate worship" is "at the very core of the problem plaguing the Church today." They celebrate two masses each Sunday using the 1928 Prayer Book, a said mass and a solemn high mass. I could find no mention anywhere of church activities, outreaches or ministries. From what I can gather from their website, St Luke's is the cathedral and sole member church of the Anglican Diocese of Arizona, which is "not active" but "stands ready for the day when God will bring his people together more fully."
Sedona is a city in central Arizona about 25 miles south of Flagstaff. The area is famous for its stunning array of sandstone formations that glow in brilliant orange and red when illuminated by the rising or setting sun. Many people have called Sedona the most beautiful place on earth. The city and its environs are said to be rich in spiritual vortexes, a good discussion of which can be found here. The locals have a saying: "God may have created the Grand Canyon, but he lives in Sedona." In addition to God, many entertainment celebrities maintain homes there, including Al Pacino, Johnny Depp, Madonna and Nicolas Cage, as well as Lucille Ball, Orson Welles and Walt Disney in years gone by.
The Rt Revd David Gregory McMannes, Anglican Bishop of Arizona and rector. Bishop McMannes was vested in amice, alb, girdle, black stole and black Gothic chasuble, but no maniple. He was assisted by an acolyte in cotta and red cassock.
What was the name of the service?Mass of the Presanctified.
How full was the building?
The church can hold about 60 people. There were four people present three little old ladies and myself.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I passed through the garden gate, I said hello to a gentleman who was entering at the same time. He apparently didn't see me, as he said nothing in reply. This same gentleman turned out to be the acolyte.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were plain wooden benches and were comfortable enough.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived 15 minutes early, but morning prayer (not advertised) was in progress. The bishop was just beginning the Te Deum. When that was over, the altar party retired to the sacristy and the three little old ladies visited amongst themselves, taking no notice of me. At length the bishop came out and reminded them to keep silence in church. A moment later the acolyte lit the altar candles.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Thus sayeth the Lord: In their affliction will they seek me" (Hosea 5:15).
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Book of Common Prayer 1928; Hymnal 1940; printed sheet entitled Mass of the Presanctified.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The acolyte appeared a little bumbly at times, and the bishop had to give him a subtle cue now and then as to where he should be standing and what he should be doing.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Stiff-upper-lip was the order of the day. The Mass of the Presanctified followed the standard order for Good Friday: a reading of the collect, epistle, and St John Passion; the solemn collects; the reproaches and veneration of the cross; communion from the reserved Sacrament. The bishop chanted the solemn collects but otherwise there was no music save for a final hymn. The reserved Sacrament was censed after it was brought to the altar. We received communion under the species of bread only. After communion we sang four verses of Pange Lingua and departed in silence.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was none.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I couldn't take a steady diet of the 1928 Prayer Book, but for special occasions such as this, the language was stately and glorious. The stark simplicity of the church and the dignity of the service contributed to the heavenly feeling.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Out in the parking lot, the bishop's car bore a bumper sticker that read: "Real Episcopalians use the 1928 BCP."
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We departed in silence. The bishop had said that coffee would be available but that all would be expected to keep silence. I didn't see the point of standing around drinking coffee in silence with three little old ladies, so I left.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I stopped at the dining room of the Radisson Hotel for a delicious breakfast with plenty of good, strong coffee, just the way I like it.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – A tiny little church like this, which takes its liturgy seriously and with a congregation so small that everyone cannot help but be expected to participate in some way, would appeal to me. I could certainly spend more time in Sedona. It's a place of incredible beauty – words or pictures cannot begin to describe it. God and Lucille Ball chose their homesteads well!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. However, I couldn't help but feel that despite the dignity of the service, what I was witnessing was three little old ladies stuck in a time warp of the church of their girlhood.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
How beautiful Sedona is.