All Saints of the Desert, Sun City, AZ (Exterior)

All Saints of the Desert, Sun City, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: All Saints of the Desert
Location: Sun City, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Friday, 14 April 2017, 12:00pm

The building

A lovely church in the Spanish Mission style, dating from the 1970s. The inside is hexagonal, with white brick walls. Behind the altar are three clear glass windows. Today, Good Friday, a large cross draped in black stood in front of the altar.

The church

They run a thrift shop and perform charitable works at the local shelter for homeless veterans, Habitat for Humanity, a local food bank, children's clinics and the like. Their wellness ministry conducts fitness classes. They sponsor chapters of Daughters of the King and Brotherhood of St Andrew. Their pastoral care ministry knits homemade lap rugs and shawls for those in need of them, and visits hospital patients and persons confined to their homes. Morning and evening prayer are said each weekday, and stations of the cross are said each Friday. There is a Wednesday healing eucharist, a Saturday evening eucharist, and two Sunday eucharists.

The neighborhood

Sun City was developed in 1960 and occupies the site where a ghost town once stood. It is one of several retirement communities built by entrepreneur Del E. Webb in Arizona, Florida, and other Sun Belt retirement spots. Comedienne Bette Midler once quipped that Sun City was the only place in the country where, in order to live there, your age had to match the temperature (she was referring to the Fahrenheit thermometer readings of central Arizona's beastly hot summers). Sun City is noted for its street grid consisting primarily of concentric circles, and a demographic (true to the actuarial tables for retirees) of 100 old ladies for every 70 old gents.

The cast

The Revd Canon Harry L. Way, interim rector, officiated. He was assisted by Marvin Smith, verger; Tom Taylor, crucifer; Deana Hermann and Annette Brooks, lectors; and Edward Holmes, intercessor. The altar party all wore black cassocks, although the officiant wore a surplice and black tippet over his, as well as a black zucchetto.

What was the name of the service?

Good Friday Liturgy.

How full was the building?

It can probably hold about 250. Present were twenty-five old ladies, nine old gents, one young gent, and two young women with a small boy. Plus Miss Amanda.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No, but I wasn't expecting it on Good Friday.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes, the padded pew was fine, although the pad was a little slippery. The kneeler, however, chafed against my knees (I was wearing shorts).

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

A little bit of talking out on the porch and a little less among the old ladies, but it was quiet for the most part. I was surprised at the amount of puttering taking place in the sanctuary - primarily setting out service booklets for the clergy inasmuch as the altar had, of course, been stripped the previous evening.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Blessed be our God for ever and ever. Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Hymnal 1982 for the three hymns we sang, although handouts were provided with the words. There was also a handout for the liturgy and another for the readings.

What musical instruments were played?

Bill Pacini, director of music, accompanied hymns on the organ, a nicely voiced electronic instrument. A grand piano and harpsichord remained silent. There was no choir present, although I understand they have a rather fine choir.

Did anything distract you?

At times, the officiant pulled his tippet up over his head, making him look rather Byzantine. A curious distraction.

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

It was a somewhat abbreviated version of the standard Good Friday liturgy, all spoken, not chanted at all. The procession entered in silence, led by the verger without his virge. The solemn collects were a bit condensed (which is fine with me) and lacked the "Let us pray, let us kneel, let us stand" language. The officiant venerated the cross but did not invite the congregation to do so, and so we did not sing or recite the Reproaches. Most surprisingly, the Sacrament had been reserved under both species (I seem to remember it being reserved only under the species of bread at any other Holy Week service I've ever attended) and so we received both bread and wine at communion, most people choosing to intinct. After communion, leftover Sacrament was returned to the altar of repose instead of being consumed, and so the altar was left lacking the symbolic empty overturned ciborium.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

5 minutes.

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

10 – Canon Way stood in front of the large veiled cross and spoke without notes in a fatherly, matter-of-fact tone that I found quite endearing and very easy to follow.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

John's account of the Passion is different from the others - everything was completely under control. Everything that would happen was already known to Jesus. We forget that it was all planned ahead of time. Jesus chose freely to do that which the Father gave him to do. May we, too, choose to accept God's will joyfully - not only the good, but the difficult as well. Jesus opened the gates of heaven for us. May we come to Easter praying that we may live, die, and live again in the midst of God's will.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I thought Canon Way's sermon was heavenly. And as much as I love the Good Friday liturgy when it is well chanted, it was refreshing to experience it all said for a change.

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

But I shouldn't have said "all said" because parts of it were condensed or omitted altogether. Although I didn't bemoan condensing the Solemn Collects, I did miss the Reproaches, which are among the most beautiful sentences uttered in any liturgy. I also missed the overturned ciborium.

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

Everyone departed in silence, as befits Good Friday.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?


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

7 – Good preaching is important to me, and based on Canon Way's sermon today, I think I would find it here. Good music is important to me too. Bill Pacini has been music director at All Saints of the Desert for 30 years, and his choir has an excellent reputation. I'd like to hear them. My only misgiving would be liberties taken with the liturgy, which I don't like and hope would not be widespread.

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


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

Canon Way using his tippet to cover his head.

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