The Church at Litchfield Park, Litchfield Park, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: The Church at Litchfield Park
Location: Litchfield Park, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 28 October 2018, 9:15am

The building

They are independent but with strong Methodist roots. The congregation first came together in 1938 and worshipped in the local community hall. Legend has it that Paul W. Litchfield, a vice president of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, which at the time was the principal economic mainstay of the area, was gambling at a casino in Mexico (mind you, Litchfield was said to be a morally principled man in every other respect) and was so impressed by the architecture of the place that he sketched out plans for a church building based on that design. Later, perhaps bothered by what people might think, he modified his sketch with features of one of the old California mission churches that he had once visited. The architect who turned Litchfield’s sketches into blueprints is unknown, but the originals bear Litchfield’s initials in one of the corners. Ground was broken in 1939, and the building was finished the same year. Additions were made over the years, but the entire church complex remained property of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company until 1971, when it was finally gifted to the congregation. The church campus is a stunning example of the Spanish Mission style so prevalent in these parts. Upon entering, one immediately notices the stained glass. There is an eastward facing communion table flanked by choir seating.

The church

Their many ministries and outreaches are far too numerous to summarize here but are well described on their website. Wednesday nights appear to be especially active, with handbell practice, choir practice, Bible study, and Scout meetings all taking place. There are three Sunday morning services each week at 8.00, 9.15 and 10.45, the late service being more contemporary in tone than the others.

The neighborhood

Litchfield Park is an affluent southwestern suburb of Phoenix. Named after the aforementioned Paul W. Litchfield, its most noteworthy feature was the vast fields where cotton was grown to supply the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company with that important component of automobile and airplane tires. Goodyear began closing down its Arizona operation in the 1950s, and today the old cotton fields are covered with upscale housing developments, resort hotels, golf courses and the like. Several historic buildings remain, including the old train station (alas, now neglected and rundown), the original school building, the Wigwam Hotel, and “Aunt Mary’s House,” a museum named in honor of a woman who worked tirelessly to support the war effort during World War II. The church is located on Old Litchfield Road near Wigwam Boulevard, a residential neighborhood of large upscale homes. Across the street from the church is a restaurant called Red, known for the opulent buffet lunch it puts out on the weekends.

The cast

No one was introduced, but I assume the senior pastor preached and one of the associate pastors gave the blessing over the offertory. There were also two acolytes vested in alb and green scapular, and a lay reader/announcer vested in street clothes.

What was the name of the service?

Worship Service.

How full was the building?

I counted room for about 250 and it was completely full. Mainly a middle aged to elderly crowd – I only noticed one young family with small children. I found it amusing to gaze out from my vantage point toward the rear on a sea of white-haired heads.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

One of the associate pastors, wearing a black Geneva gown and green stole, was standing at the door. She shook my hand and said, ‘Good morning. Good to have you here.’ Inside, everyone was too busy visiting with friends to take note of a stranger.

Was your pew comfortable?

Padded wooden pew – a little severe but basically OK.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Lots of visiting among friends. The pianist struck up a prelude but the congregation took it, as they often do, as a signal to talk louder. Electronic chimes were sounded at the start time, and that quieted everyone down.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good morning.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Celebration Hymnal and a service sheet. In addition to this week’s service sheet, a stack of last week’s was also available (why?). They looked identical except for the date. I accidentally took last week’s and had to correct myself.

What musical instruments were played?

Electronic organ, a large Allen instrument; and piano. I’ll have more to say about the piano in a moment. There was a mixed choir of about 22 elderly folk, vested in alb and purple scarf.

Did anything distract you?

The gentleman sitting next to me jiggled his legs almost nonstop, making it feel like an earthquake was shaking our pew. I shot him a look but it was ineffective.

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

Basically a hymn sandwich with lots of announcements and special presentations. The music was all traditional, which suited me just fine, but the choir anthems were applauded. Ugh! No communion today – I think they have it once a month.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

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

7 — The senior pastor began with an anecdote about a birthday present for his son. Irrelevant, I thought, but he did manage to tie it in finally, if weakly. He looked down at his notes often at first, but became more relaxed and conversational as he progressed.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

His text was Mark 10:46-52 (Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus). Bartimaeus gave up all that he had (his cloak was his only possession) to follow Jesus, whereas the rich man a few verses back was willing to give up none of his many goods. Bartimaeus had faith that Jesus would deliver on what he asked for – just as the pastor’s son had faith that his father could come up with the birthday present he wanted.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

At the offertory, the associate pastor prayed that God would bless all those who could give, and would also bless all those who were unable to give. I had never heard that before and thought it was heavenly. (What God thought of my Mystery Worship calling card I won't dare to guess.) As the collection was being taken up, the pianist played a medley of American folk hymns that I thought sounded very decent indeed. I couldn’t see the piano from where I was sitting, and I vowed to go up later to inspect it.

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

If I were given the chance to condemn parts of the service to 'the other place,' I would choose the leg-jiggling gentleman and everyone who applauded the choir.

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

The senior pastor thanked everyone who had taken part in the service and then he and the associate pastor hot-footed it to the rear of the church to shake everyone’s hand as they were leaving. I made good on my vow to find out what kind of piano it was, and I was pleased to discover that it was a Bösendorfer grand – not the Imperial Grand with the extra keys in the bass, but a very nice instrument nonetheless. It sounded wonderful and was played well.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I really didn’t feel in need of coffee, but I sampled a quarter of a cup just to see what it tasted like. It was served in the cloister connecting the various buildings on campus (they call it the breezeway), and it was hot and strong, just as I like it. There were also some kind of pastries on sale for a fundraiser, but I didn’t take one of those. I got a few nods from a few people, but no one said anything to me.

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

5 — I’m no spring chicken, but I don’t like to see a predominantly elderly crowd at church, even if they manage to fill all the pews. I’d like to see more young people – the demographics of Litchfield Park can certainly produce them. And despite the liturgical touches that graced this service, I like to see more liturgy than just a hymn sandwich.

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

Sort of.

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

The Bösendorfer grand piano.

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