La Casa De Cristo, Scottsdale, Arizona, USA

La Casa de Cristo, Scottsdale, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper: Episcopal Hopper
Church: La Casa de Cristo
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 21 February 2009, 5:00pm

The building

Scattered about a campus of lush desert landscaping are several cream-colored buildings with stucco walls and tiled roofs. The sanctuary, fellowship hall, school, music room, church office and nursery, as well as other departments, are all housed in the various buildings. Also on the campus is a bronze statue of a man looking like he was helping another man, but there was no label and so I'm not sure who the statue depicts. Upon entering the sanctuary, one finds oneself in an expansive cruciform room with an assortment of tables at the rear and a baptismal font about halfway down the aisle. At the front are a plain altar and pulpit backed by an organ case, with the organ console and choir loft to the right and two large "jumbotron" style screens on either side.

The church

There are four services each weekend, both traditional and contemporary, on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. Among their many weekday activities are Bible study; men's, women's and children's ministries; and a support ministry for bereaved parents. The church also conducts an extensive music program including four choirs, a handbell group, and performances by community orchestral and choral societies. They also sponsor several community projects as well as mission activities in Costa Rica and South Africa.

The neighborhood

Scottsdale, a city of about 240,000 residents, is an eastern suburb of Phoenix sitting in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. The area was inhabited from the third century AD onward by Aztec/Mayan descendants who farmed the arid, inhospitable desert with the help of a system of irrigation canals, the remnants of which are still a part of today's modern water facilities. But sometime between the 15th and 17th centuries, when the Spanish began to arrive, this early civilization seems to have disappeared. Indeed, the Spanish encountered Native American tribes who referred to the earlier peoples as Hohokam, meaning "the vanished ones." Arizona became a United States territory in 1863, and in 1877 Congress passed the Desert Land Act, which gave 640-acre desert plots to families willing to reclaim, irrigate and cultivate the land. An influx of settlers ensued, among whom was a preacher, farmer, businessman and developer named Winfield Scott. Scott planted 600 acres of citrus trees and campaigned to attract settlers to Orangetown, as he called it. When the post office opened a branch there in 1897, the name of the town became Scottsdale. In 1937, renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright built his winter camp on the eastern edge of the town, and in 1951 Scottsdale was incorporated as a city. Since then, Scottsdale has acquired a reputation for being home to the rich and famous. The city is known for its upscale shops, gourmet eating establishments and vibrant nightlife. The church is located on Bell Road, in the northern portion of Scottsdale, in a mixed residential and commercial area.

The cast

The service was led by the Revd Andrew Garman, pastor. Homer Ashton Ferguson III, A.Mus.D., assisted at the organ.

What was the name of the service?

Traditional Service

How full was the building?

The building can seat over 1000 people and was about one-quarter full. I estimate that there were about 250 people in all. The congregation was a mix of older families (couples age 50 and over) as well as younger families. It was a comfort to see families in their late 20s and early 30s with their children in church.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. I was welcomed by the pastor as well as greeters who handed me an order of worship.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. The pew was padded and quite comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The pre-service atmosphere was remarkably quiet. Congregants were either studying the readings for the day or listening to the beautiful prelude played by Dr Ferguson. This was interrupted when a rush of folks came in and got their seats during the prelude.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"First a few announcements."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Holy Bible, the order of worship (a printed bulletin), and text displayed on the jumbotrons.

What musical instruments were played?

Pipe organ. The instrument, said to be the largest church organ in Arizona, was completed in December 2008 by the Berghaus firm of Bellwood, Illinois.

Did anything distract you?

Yes. The rush of folks coming in at 4.59pm as the service was about to begin, and the jumbotrons changing slides during the service, were quite distracting. One had to pay attention both to the paper order of service as well as the screens. The pastor rushed through the daily lessons and read in somewhat of a monotone, which was also quite distracting.

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

The worship style was formal and liturgical accompanied by eloquent German Lutheran hymnody. It was a typical Lutheran service of the Word with a chanted Kyrie and Gloria.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

14 minutes long.

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

6 – The pastor did not preach from the pulpit. He stepped in front of the altar and had his notes in his Bible. He also seemed to make a very personal connection with his parishioners as he spoke. The pastor's tone during the sermon was polite, but it was clear that this was a bit of "congregation scolding."

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The pastor rattled off that there were 5,000 members in the church but only 1,600 of them showed up on any given Sunday. He also scolded congregants who preferred to take their children to sports and other activities rather than church-sponsored youth outings. The sermon got better as time went along, as he segued into a discussion of how our faith is a commitment, and how we need to look at our priorities and examine where church falls. He also talked about making church a priority in our lives.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The organ music, the beautiful sanctuary, and the chanting.

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

The overly long (four minute) extemporaneous closing prayer monologue by the pastor.

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

I examined the various tables at the back of the church, trying to look lost as I pondered which of the tables might be the "welcome table" mentioned in the bulletin. But everyone just appeared to be in a rush to get out. So I decided to do the same, and I shook the pastor's hand as I left.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was no after-service coffee.

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

5 – This church seems like it's more of an institution than a faith family. Also, to come to church only to be berated about how faith is not priority number one in one's life, left a slightly bad taste. Finally, I was brought up in a strict liturgical tradition, and the Lutheran liturgy isn't really my cup of tea.

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

Yes, to the extent that I was comforted to see a mix of age groups in the church, knowing that we are still relevant as Christians. I was also glad to see that Christian hymnody is still strong.

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

Trying to look at the jumbotron and the order of service at the same time.

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