Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: Apostles Lutheran
Location: Peoria, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 16 September 2018, 10:45am
A large rectangular building looking like a cross between a Spanish mission and an airplane hangar. Inside one finds a bright room with white banner-lined walls and clerestory lighting. The altar sits on a platform behind which is a window with a cross embedded in it. The carpeting is green/grey.
They offer a pre-school for children ages 3 through 5 (quoting from their website) ‘fully potty trained.’ Men’s and women’s Bible studies take place one night each week. A chapter of the Dorcas Society makes quilts to give to those in need. They have a Stephen ministry and a youth group. The bulletin announced an upcoming talent show. There are two services in English each Sunday plus one in Spanish. They also conduct a service each Sunday at a nearby assisted living home.
Peoria is a western suburb of Phoenix. The church is located at 70th Avenue and Cactus Road, an area primarily marked by working class homes shielded from the street via stone walls to keep out traffic noise.
The pastor and the pianist. The pastor wore a white clerical shirt and grey slacks.
What was the name of the service?‘Come As You Are’ worship. The earlier service is billed as ‘Liturgical.’
How full was the building?
I counted room for about 200. There were 30 present – mostly old ladies with a smattering of old men. A few middle-aged and younger souls. No children.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not at the door, but once I was seated the pastor spoke quite cordially with me.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes – upholstered.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People visited quietly but no one said anything to me other than the pastor. A few minutes before service time, the pianist sang a solo in a charming tenor voice – but as he began, about one-quarter of the people got up and left! Huh? I thought they might be walking to the back to form the entrance procession, but that was not the case. I never did find out who these people were or where they had gone – they never reappeared so far as I could tell.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Good morning. Good to see all of you here.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Lutheran Service Book and The Holy Bible, English Standard Version were in the pews, but everything we needed was projected.
What musical instruments were played?
Upright acoustic piano. They will need to call the piano tuner in before long. An electronic organ in the gallery remained silent; the pastor told me it was used for the earlier service.
Did anything distract you?
Well, I kept wondering if the people who had left during the pianist’s solo were ever going to reappear. And one of the eucharistic ministers could pass as the twin brother of WC Fields.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Rather straightforward for ‘come as you are.’ It followed more or less the standard Western liturgical format as Lutherans filter it. The hymns were all traditional, which I was glad to see. Communion was table style: we all stood at the rail, bowed upon signal from the pastor, and then knelt. The bread was the standard liturgical wafer type; we could either take a wee cuppie of grape juice or sip wine from the chalice. After everyone had received, we remained in place until the pastor blessed us. Then we all stood and bowed before returning to our pews.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 — The pastor glanced down at notes now and then. His style was informal and conversational, but I thought he repeated himself a bit too much. His talk could have used a tighter organization.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was Matthew 25:14-30 (the parable of the talents). Why was the master so angry at the servant who dug a hole and buried his talent? After all, he gave it back to the master with no loss on the master’s part (but admittedly no gain either). It’s because the servant thought that the master was a hard boss – he couldn’t see his good side. When faced with a hard boss, we are not inspired to do our best. It’s like those people who say they don’t need God, they don’t want him. OK, God says, then you won’t have me – for eternity! What gifts we have are not ours – they are from God. God is not harsh, cruel or unfair – but the world is broken. We must turn to God for help. God will give us everything – he will even die on the cross for us. And despite our imperfect lives, he will welcome us into heaven with open arms if only we trust and believe in him.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was a pleasure to sing along to: old favorites such as ‘Earth and all stars’ (yes, I know that choir wags call it something naughty that I won’t mention here, but I like it), ‘Take my life and let it be,’ ‘Just as I am,’ ‘Sent forth by God’s blessing.’ The pianist played competently, but I thought the organ would have better supported congregational singing. You could tell he was a tenor, though, as all the hymns were pitched a step or too too high for comfortable singing by anyone except the high voices.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The pianist sang another solo, John Foley’s ‘One Bread, One Body.’ Of all of the St Louis Jesuit songs, this is one of the few that rise to the level of artistic worthiness. But the lyrics proclaim the unity of the faithful through communion – which, alas, some Christians simply do not believe, including Missouri Synod Lutherans. The song strikes me as hypocritical when sung in closed communion churches.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The pastor thanked me for coming and said that I should let him know if he could be of further service. No one else said anything to me.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No announcement had been made, and none was on offer so far as I could tell.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 — I’d like to check out their earlier ‘liturgical’ service. I would like to see a friendlier congregation, however. ‘We’re glad you’re here’ was projected onto the screen – so show it, people!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Wondering where the people went who left during the pianist’s solo.