Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix, AZ (exterior)

Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Trinity Cathedral
Location: Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Thursday, 21 December 2017, 6:00pm

The building

A stone building, painted sandy brown, in the Spanish mission style that is prominent throughout the Phoenix area and indeed throughout most of Arizona. Construction began in 1916, and the building was consecrated in 1920. The interior was almost completely destroyed by fire in October 2002, but, thanks to a generous outpouring of community support (and well-written fire insurance), has been fully restored. The long, narrow nave features white walls, a red tile floor, and dark wood pews and ceiling. A small square altar sits at the front of the sanctuary, behind which are the organ console, a piano (a Bosendorfer Imperial Grand!), and choir seating. A circular stained glass window at the rear of the sanctuary depicts the Holy Spirit. Other windows depict various religious themes.

The church

Trinity Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Arizona. They are proud of their music ministry and conduct several activities for the care and upkeep of the cathedral buildings and grounds. The social hall includes an art gallery that regularly displays, and offers for sale, works by local artists. As a parish church, they engage in a number of ministries well documented on their website. I'll just briefly mention their health and wellness ministry and their outreach to the poor, homeless and incarcerated. There are three eucharists each Sunday (said, sung, and in Spanish) plus occasional choral evensong. There is one weekday eucharist on Wednesdays.

The neighborhood

The cathedral is in downtown Phoenix on Roosevelt Street at First Avenue, easily reached by the light rail line and with ample parking in a garage out back. Once home to stately mansions of the wealthy, the area went decidedly to seed as the 20th century waned. But urban renewal has transformed it into a playground of art galleries, performance venues, upscale restaurants, and lovingly restored older homes, many of which are now professional offices. One need not scratch the surface very hard, however, to uncover encampments of homeless people as well as hastily constructed apartments and condos designed by architects who apparently thought that shoe boxes were God's special gift to creative genius.

The cast

There were two women clergy vested in cassock, clerical collar, and the longest surplices I have ever seen - down to their ankles! But they were not named in the service leaflet, and it was too dark in the cathedral to make out their faces in good enough detail to look them up on the cathedral's website.

What was the name of the service?

A Service of Light and Darkness. It was described on their website as "a time for remembering both persons and events that have been a part of our lives in the past a quiet, meditative worship service that makes time for sharing our hurting places with God."

How full was the building?

The cathedral is small as cathedrals go - it only seats about 300. I counted 34 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?


Was your pew comfortable?

Uncushioned wooden pew but comfortable enough.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The cathedral was very dark, illuminated only by a few ceiling lights turned down very dim. As people entered they sat in total silence.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Some of us walk into Christmas tethered to our unresolved yesterdays."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A service leaflet held everything we needed.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, opus 2247 of the Schantz Organ Company of Orrville, Ohio. It was played only for the one congregational hymn; all other music was sung a cappella by a quartet drawn, I assume, from the choir.

Did anything distract you?

The scripture readings were from The Message. What a horrid translation! I found the language very distracting and unnecessarily direct, especially contractions ("Let's go to Bethlehem") and such expressions as "He went with Mary, his fiance, who was pregnant." Certain slick teen magazines may be written that way, but the Bible?

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

It was a home-grown mixture of readings, reflections, chants and prayers, all addressing a different aspect of the "unresolved yesterdays" mentioned in the opening words. A Christ candle was lit on a table in front of the altar. After each reading, the congregation were invited to come forward to light a votive candle from the Christ candle and place it at the foot of the altar, while the choir chanted a Taize-like mantra as many times as needed to accommodate all who came forward.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

There was none.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The one congregational hymn was "In the Bleak Midwinter" to the Gustav Holst setting (Cranham). Yes, I know, there are plenty of people who don't care for it, but I happen to like it.

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

Well, The Message translation. And although the choir sang the Taize-like chants beautifully and in perfect intonation, they tried to make the repetition less boring by improvising descants and, erm, unorthodox harmonic progressions on some of the verses. Skillfully done, but not exactly pleasing to ears unaccustomed to some of the more imaginative 20th century harmonic concepts.

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

People were invited to leave quietly or remain quietly in prayer and contemplation, as they wished. The clergy and choir retired to the sacristy. Most of the congregation remained. I left.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none. I had enjoyed a delicious dinner beforehand at the Fez Restaurant, just a block away from the cathedral. "American fare with a touch of Mediterranean flair."

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

8 – I like the cathedral's devotion to great liturgical music and strict attention to detail. But they are basically low church, and I prefer a place a little higher up the candle.

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


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

"In the Bleak Midwinter."

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