Alleluia Lutheran, Phoenix, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Alleluia Lutheran
Location: Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 September 2019, 9:00am

The building

A low, flat structure. Inside, one passes through a spacious lobby into the sanctuary, a square room with brown brick walls and a wood beam ceiling. A wooden altar sported two candles and a green frontal on which was emblazoned ‘Jesus is Lord.’ A wooden cross is affixed to the wall behind the altar. Clergy seating is to the left; choir seating to the right (although the choir had not yet come back from summer recess). Stained glass windows are simple yet pleasing, depicting various religious symbols.

The church

They are proud of their Diaper Closet, where volunteers offer a week’s supply of diapers and germicidal wipes to the parents of infants and toddlers who wonder if they (quoting from their website) ‘will have enough money to pay the rent or buy groceries … [or] afford disposable diapers.’ There is also a prayer group, Bible study, and Boy Scouts. They provide meeting space for a chapter of Narcotics Anonymous as well as a Spanish congregation, Centro Church. There is one service each Sunday.

The neighborhood

They are located on Encanto Boulevard west of 83rd Avenue, in the Maryvale section of Phoenix. Maryvale, a predominantly working-class Hispanic neighborhood, has a reputation for crime and graffiti despite beefed-up police patrols. The area is also said to be plagued by packs of feral chihuahuas that terrorize residents, although that may simply be an urban legend – it certainly sounds like something out of Monty Python. Nearby to the church is Desert Star Park, a small playground and recreation field popular with families – at least during daylight hours, as it takes on a rather unsavory aura after sunset. Also nearby is Desert Sky Mall, catering to a predominantly Hispanic clientele.

The cast

The pastor, in a grey blouse and black skirt, assisted by a woman (not sure if she was a deacon or an acolyte) in a light blue dress with white diamond-shaped patterns.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Service.

How full was the building?

I counted 150 chairs. There were 30 people – mostly elderly ladies, some elderly gents, very few middle-aged folk, two small children, one teenager who appeared to be with his grandparents.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

As I entered the lobby, I saw that people were holding bulletins but I couldn’t see where they got them from. Someone pointed me to a table where a woman said, ‘Sorry, I wasn’t doing my job’ as she gave me a bulletin. Once I had settled into a seat, that same woman came up to me and said, ‘Nice to have you back’ (although I had never been there before). Several other people shook my hand, introduced themselves, and said ‘Nice to see you’ and ‘Welcome’ or other such greetings.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a chair – not uncomfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Lots of loud talking and laughter out in the lobby. Quieter inside as people greeted each other. The pianist struck up a jazzy number just before start time.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

We sang a hymn, followed by: ‘We are gathered this morning in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Everything we needed was in a handout.

What musical instruments were played?

Digital piano, played very well. A drum kit behind the obligatory plexiglas shield remained thankfully silent.

Did anything distract you?

Before the service, the deacon (or was she an acolyte?) lit the altar candles with, I’m pleased to say, a proper liturgical taper (no barbecue lighter here, as we all too often see nowadays). However, just as she lifted the taper to the first candle, it went out. She muttered something – I’m sure it wasn’t an expletive – and then relit the taper, which behaved itself for the duration of the candle lighting. One old lady had a tattoo on the back of her neck, which corroborated my contention that women who allow themselves to be tattooed are going to look very funny when they get to be little old ladies. A little girl in the row ahead of me turned around and stared at me nonstop; there was no one else in my row, so I moved down several seats.

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

An abbreviated liturgy following the standard form we are used to in Western churches. The hymn tunes were all old standbys (Lasst Und Erfreuen, Ein Feste Burg, Lyons) but with different words from what we usually sing. We sang the Sanctus to Land of Rest, which is one of my favorite hymn tunes, and the Lord’s Prayer to the Malotte setting, which I also love. Unlike in most Lutheran churches, we took communion standing, receiving the host in the hand and then intincting it into one of two chalices – grape juice or wine, although it wasn’t at all clear which was which.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

4 minutes (children’s talk), 20 minutes (adult sermon) – I think – I realized about halfway through that my stopwatch hadn’t started when I pressed the start button.

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

8 — It was a good sermon, but I think the pastor was reading it although she tried to look as though she wasn’t.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

(Children’s talk) There was once a little girl who had to choose between piano lessons and soccer practice. She chose piano lessons. We sometimes have to choose between following Jesus and doing something else. It’s not easy to follow Jesus – can you do it? (Adult sermon) Friendships and family ties are sometimes not as satisfying as we might want them to be. But that’s life. We often isolate ourselves, putting up walls between ourselves and the unpleasant. But there are also people who just go with the flow, whatever it might be. Things can be messy sometimes, but God is always there. We are called to see all people as our sisters and brothers. The Holy Spirit pushes us to expand our understanding of love. Is there someone in your life whom you could view differently from how you do? That can be challenging, but God is always with us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The Sanctus to Land of Rest and the Lord’s Prayer to the Malotte setting.

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

Where are the young people? Where are the neighborhood residents? I do hope this isn’t a dying church – everyone seemed so friendly and the service was done so well.

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

Several people told me to be sure to go on through for coffee and donuts, and so I did.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Cut-up donuts, fruit punch, and very tasty coffee. Surprisingly, though, no one visited with me, and so I left after finishing my donut. Had I stayed longer, it is possible that someone would have engaged me in conversation, but things weren’t off to a good start.

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

8 — As I said, everyone was friendly without being pushy, and the traditional-style service was well done with good music. I’d want to see more young people in the congregation, though.

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


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

The Sanctus to Land of Rest and the Lord’s Prayer to the Malotte setting.

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