American Lutheran, Sun City, Arizona, USA


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper:
Church: American Lutheran
Location: Sun City, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 July 2009, 10:30am

The building

A series of cloistered stone buildings with bell tower surrounding a courtyard. The sanctuary features cream-colored brick walls and plaster ceiling with dark wooden beams. In front is a wooden altar with pulpit to the left and organ console and choir seating to the right. Behind the altar is a large stained glass window depicting Salvation. In keeping with the Independence Day holiday, the church was decorated with American flags and patriotic bunting, and two vases of red and white flowers had been placed on the altar.

The church

They sponsor a Stephen Ministry and hold Bible study and various other activities for men, women and couples. They maintain close ties with the Martin Luther School of Phoenix and Pan de Vida Lutheran Church in the neighboring city of El Mirage.

The neighborhood

Other reports have described Sun City as a retirement community northwest of Phoenix. The church is located on Del Webb Boulevard just north of Bell Road, in a quiet, pleasant residential section. A Missouri Synod Lutheran church plus Roman Catholic and Presbyterian churches can be found on the other side of Bell Road. All of these are similar architecturally to American Lutheran; you really have to know where you are to be sure you're worshipping where you want to.

The cast

The Revd Ellis E. Eskritt (Pastor Bud), pastor of care ministry, presided. The preacher was the Revd Charles T. Paulson (Pastor Chuck), pastor of outreach ministry. Mr John Prinz read the lessons, and Tom Ohnesorge, director of music, presided at the organ.

What was the name of the service?

Communion Worship. This was the later of two services, with coffee hour between the two.

How full was the building?

There was room for about 300, and the church was about three-quarters full. The side aisles had been roped off. As is to be expected in Sun City, the congregation were elderly, but not the oxygen bottle and walker set I've noticed in other Sun City churches.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

An usher smiled and handed me a service leaflet. Pastor Chuck explained that communion would be by intinction and handed me a nicely done booklet describing the stained glass windows.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. It was a wooden pew with plush light tan upholstery.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was a little noisy in the back as the ushers greeted people, but once inside, people were fairly quiet. There was some quiet visiting.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning. Welcome to American Lutheran Church."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Lutheran Book of Worship and The Holy Bible, New International Version. But everything we needed was in the service leaflet, including words to the hymns (but not the music).

What musical instruments were played?

Pipe organ. The gift of a wealthy parishioner replacing an older electronic organ, the church's magnificent 42 stop, 56 rank Casavant Frères instrument is housed in a visually striking array of cases along the east wall. The organ is a popular recital instrument - in fact, a recital was scheduled for later that afternoon. It was also on the list of must-see organs for a recent convention of the Central Arizona chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

Did anything distract you?

Some of the words to the hymns as given in the bulletin did not exactly coincide with the words given in the hymnal. And one of the hymns was sung to a different tune from that appearing in the hymnal. At communion, people handed the ushers a little card as the ushers directed them out of their pews; I didn't have one of these, and I didn't know what it was.

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

A traditional Lutheran service. Both pastors were vested in alb and green stole, and the lay reader wore an alb. The organist wore a blue choir gown with hood. A fair percentage of the service was sung or chanted. We sang the Lord's Prayer to the Malotte setting, which was a pleasant surprise. At communion we intincted traditional wafers into either wine or grape juice, as we preferred.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

8 – Pastor Chuck had prepared his sermon well. He spoke clearly and made good eye contact with the congregation.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

This weekend Americans observe Independence Day, which is a celebration of freedom. Even in these troubled times, we are grateful for our freedom. Holy communion is also a celebration of freedom; Christ set us free from sin. At passover the Jews celebrate freedom from bondage in Egypt. Regardless of what troubles we may face, we can rely on God to set us free.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Everything moved along with great dignity and beauty. The organ sounded magnificent and was masterfully played by Mr Ohnesorge.

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

But I thought the singing was timid, which surprised me for a Lutheran church. The hymns were traditional and included a fair smattering of patriotic songs in keeping with Independence Day. But the congregation just didn't seem with it. The choir were on summer recess; perhaps things are better with the choir there to lend support. Of course, I can readily forgive the congregation for not singing the service music; I have long regarded Lutheran service music as given in the Lutheran Book of Worship as unsingable.

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

People cleared out fairly quickly. The woman in front of me complimented me on my singing and asked me if I was new to the church. I chatted a bit with both pastors and with the organist.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Refreshments were available between the earlier service and this one. I didn't sample the coffee, but there was lemonade, which hit the spot on a hot Arizona summer day. There were also several kinds of cookies. Pastor Chuck asked me where I was from and what my regular church was, and told me a bit about what I could expect from the service. He also explained that the senior pastor was away on holiday.

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

8 – I really liked this church. It is a beautiful building, and they appear to take their liturgy seriously. I will return in the fall to hear the choir.

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 little cards that people gave the ushers as they went up to communion.

Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you’d like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.

Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Comments and corrections

To comment, please scroll to the end of this report and add your thoughts there. To send us factual corrections, please contact us. We also discuss reports on our Ecclesiantics bulletin board.

© Ship of Fools