Epiphany, Tempe, AZ (Exterior)

Church of the Epiphany, Tempe, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Church of the Epiphany
Location: Tempe, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 14 January 2018, 10:00am

The building

The congregation met first in a private home and then in a barn, and later on the front lawn of a school. The present building was dedicated in 2003, with renovations and additions made in 2008. The outside consists of several brick wings joined by a copper cylinder. The interior is a bright room, square, with pews at a 45 degree angle, a small altar atop a platform, and choir seating to the left.

The church

Epiphany's ministries are well documented on their website, so let me outline briefly the curriculum vitae of the guest speaker, the Revd Robert W. Lee IV. Born in North Carolina, Revd Bob is a descendant of Civil War Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Raised in the United Methodist Church, he is a student at Duke University Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. An ordained minister of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, he has also served as pastor of Bethany United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem, North Carolina - from which, interestingly, he felt compelled to resign when his views sparked dissention in the congregation. An outspoken champion of racial equality and critic of the white supremacist movement, he is the author of several articles and (so far) one book. He has called racism "America's original sin."

The neighborhood

Tempe is a middle class suburb to the southeast of Phoenix. It is home to Arizona State University, and downtown Tempe is very much a college town. The church is located some distance from downtown in a quiet family neighborhood near the ring road known as the Loop 101 (well, three-quarters of a ring road; construction is now underway to complete the ring despite fierce opposition from residents through whose neighborhood the new road will pass).

The cast

The Revd Canon Richard Morrison, interim pastor, was the celebrant. He was assisted by the Revd Deacon Lynn Adwell and several servers. Miriam Hickman, A.Mus.D., presided at the piano and organ. Dana Bender directed the choir. The Revd Robert W. Lee IV preached. Canon Morrison was vested in red (!) cassock, surplice and green stole; the Revd Bob likewise except his cassock was black. Deacon Adwell wore an alb and green deacon's stole. Servers and choir were in cassock and surplice; one of the servers thought that sockless sneakers are correctly worn under a cassock (they aren't!).

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?

About seven-eights full. It is not a large church, but it's hard to estimate the seating capacity given the unusual configuration of the pews.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was very early in order to assure myself a seat at what I assumed would be a standing-room-only service (it wasn't), so I missed whatever greeting activity there may have been at the door. Inside, no one paid me any attention except one woman, who introduced herself as Paula and said, "Hello, nice to see you."

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes - unpadded wooden pew but tastefully designed and very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Lots of loud greeting and visiting. The pianist played some tinkly bits that were ignored. Eventually she increased the volume of her playing so as to shush the crowd, and they remained shushed when she stopped.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning, everyone."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Book of Common Prayer 1979; Hymnal 1982. A service handout had all the prayers and readings.

What musical instruments were played?

Grand piano and electronic organ. There was a choir of 19 voices.

Did anything distract you?

The only distraction, really, was a photographer, a young gentleman heavily tattooed, who set his tripod up directly in front of the altar. I'll have more to say about him later.

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

A very nicely done Book of Common Prayer Rite II service. The hymns were traditional, well sung by choir and congregation, and well supported by the organ. The offertory anthem was John Rutter's "The Lord Bless You and Keep You", again very well done. The Gloria was sung to the William Mathias setting, very energetic. The Sanctus was the Schubert Deutsche Messe setting - lovely when done at the tempo Schubert intended, but done here at jump-rope-jingle speed as so many choir directors unfortunately do. The priest chanted the sursum corda and preface, but the rest of the mass was spoken.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

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

8 – The Revd Bob began at the pulpit but then moved to the center of the sanctuary and walked back and forth a bit as he spoke - trying, I am sure, to avoid being upstaged by the photographer (see below).

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

His text was the day's gospel reading, John 1:43-51 (What good can come out of Nazareth?). He said he had been wondering what to preach on - it's not as if there's anything of note going on in the world, is there? [Laughter] No, only that the leader of the free world thought it appropriate to call other nations by a word not fit to be spoken in church. But isn't that just like what Nathaniel said in today's gospel? What was Nazareth? A backwater, a nothing, a Podunk of a town - just like the town where the Revd Bob was born. Jesus could have been born anywhere: Rome, Jerusalem, you name it. But where you come from isn't important - it's where you're going that matters. And where are we going? Come and see! We have come together here to meet Christ at the table of grace. We are united by a common bond of love. Love can change the world, but we have a long way to go. The Jim Crow image of generations past is unfortunately still with us today. Jim Crow is not dead - he's merely known by a different name now: James Crow, Esquire. We speak of movements but there should be no need of movements. We all should be moving together in the same direction. No? Don't you think so? Come and see!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

A beautifully done service with great music and a very inspirational sermon. At communion the pianist played a jazz version of "Amazing Grace." I'm not a fan of jazz, but it was very reverently and skillfully done. Very nice.

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

But let's talk about that photographer, shall we? Dude, I don't care how cute you are or how fetching your tattoos look (although you did have the good taste eventually to cover them with a jacket, except that you're one of those men who think that it's fashionably correct to wear a blue jacket with brown shoes - it isn't; I don't care how many men think otherwise). No, I don't care. A professional photographer sets his tripod up in the back of the room, high enough to aim the camera over people's heads, and uses his telephoto lens to get close up to the action. He doesn't set it up right smack in front of the sanctuary, thus blocking everybody's sight line. And he doesn't stand manning his camera during the entire sermon, again blocking the sight line. In short, he photographs the service; he doesn't turn the service into one long photo op.

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

The closing hymn was "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" to the tune of Coronation, one of the best hymns the church has got, bar none! After it was over, the lady next to me in the pew introduced herself and said," So nice to have you here today."

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Cut-up fruit, veggies and dip, quiche, baked macaroni, plus cookies, cakes and muffins, were served in the parish hall, along with very tasty coffee. Two ladies, Barbara and Connie, joined me at my table and we chatted amiably.

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

9 – I don't live in Tempe and it would be a long drive for me every Sunday, but this is definitely my kind of church: dignified liturgy, wonderful music, great preaching, friendly and caring congregation. Those are the things I look for in a church. If they'd take that one server shopping for proper shoes and socks, and if the rector would ditch his red cassock for a black one, and if they laid down the law to visiting photographers, I'd give it a 10.

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


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

I hate to end on a sour note, but I'm afraid its going to be how intrusive the photographer was allowed to be.

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