Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: Lakeview United Methodist
Location: Sun City, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Thursday, 9 April 2009, 6:00pm
A bright, airy campus of stylish, modern stone buildings including a bell tower. Tonight's service was held in the church hall, a large room with white brick walls, red carpeting, and an acoustic tiled ceiling with wooden beams and fluorescent lighting in the shape of crosses. A full service kitchen opens off to the left. In front is a large stage. In back, to one side, is a lounge area with three couches and a coffee table.
This is one of three churches comprising what they call the Greater Parish. They hold two services each Sunday, plus a service on Thursday evenings followed by dinner. All the usual ministries are represented, including a bus ministry for people who need a ride to and from church; Phone Shepherds, for those who would appreciate a phone call now and then; and Amigos, who stand ready to reach out to anyone needing a friend.
Sun City is a retirement community in the northwestern part of the Phoenix metropolitan area. It's a clean, green, pleasant place, its streets lined with citrus trees that perfume the air with an oh, so sweet aroma this time of year, when they are in bloom. Alas, though, Lakeview United Methodist Church is not close to a lake and does not enjoy any view to speak of, except of hospitals and medical office suites.
The Revd Louie Lyon, directing pastor, made opening remarks and gave the sermon. Don Bommarito, director of church growth, served as master of ceremonies. Pastor Lyon was smartly dressed in a dark blue suit with light blue shirt, dark red tie, and a red handkerchief in his breast pocket. Mr Bommarito wore a light brown shirt and dark brown slacks.
What was the name of the service?Dinner and Commemoration of the Last Supper.
How full was the building?
Thirty round tables had been set up with eight chairs apiece. They were all filled to capacity. Everyone was elderly I assume they were all regular congregants and residents of Sun City.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady at the door who was collecting money (a $5 donation was requested for the dinner) bade me a good evening and welcome. I chose to sit on one of the couches in the lounge area rather than at a table, and a person or two asked me if I was sitting in the corner because I had been naughty, or if I was an outcast, etc. I replied that I was very claustrophobic and to sit at a table would set me off (which indeed it would have, being an "Aspie" and all that).
Was your pew comfortable?
The couches in the lounge area were very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of greeting, laughing and talking. Plates of brownies topped with Cool Whip had been set out on a table; people helped themselves to these and carried them to their seats. They also helped themselves to iced tea or water, as they wished. Coffee was already available in Thermos jugs on each table. Welcome notices and listings of upcoming events were projected onto a screen set up in front of the stage.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening, and welcome to our Maundy Thursday celebration" this by Mr Bommarito, who then launched into a few jokes about which I'll have more to say later.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
From my rather aloof perch in the lounge area, I busied myself studying the relative mobility (or lack thereof) of the more on-in-years members of the decidedly elderly crowd.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Dinner was jovial and informal; the commemoration of the Last Supper that followed was dead serious. After Mr Bommarito finished his jokes, Pastor Lyon recited an opening prayer. We were called up table-by-table to the serving station, where we were handed a plate of roast beef, string beans, noodle kugel and a slice of bread. It all went very smoothly. As we ate, the screen was removed from in front of the stage, revealing a long table with twelve places set and a dark blue backdrop in front of which were some trees. After dinner, Pastor Lyon read from scripture (Mark 14:12-25, Christ's preparations for and eating of the Passover meal) and gave a short sermon. Actors in period dress then took their places on stage and delivered a dramatic rendering of the Last Supper. This included Jesus washing Peter's feet as well as Jesus walking around the table ministering bread and wine to each of the apostles. The presentation concluded with all leaving the stage except Jesus and Judas. Judas delivered a soliloquy in which he recounted the events of the crucifixion, said how sorry he was for having betrayed his Master, and resolved to hang himself out of shame. He said he would be remembered as a traitor and thief. He then turned to us and asked, "And how will you be remembered? As Judas, for whom there could be no forgiveness, or as Peter, who betrayed Jesus but was forgiven?"
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Pastor Lyon seemed to be speaking extemporaneously but he managed to hold our interest nonetheless.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
At the Last Supper, Christ and his apostles commemorated the passing over of the angel of death, as Jews had done for over a thousand years. The seder table held elements which reminded one of that passing over. By tradition, it was believed that the Messiah would come by entering a room where seder was being held. What the apostles didn't realize was that the Messiah had entered the room at their seder. Bread and wine had always been a part of the seder meal, but the apostles didn't understand what Jesus meant when he said that they were his body, his blood. Bread and wine still play an important role in the seder even to this day.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The reenactment of the Last Supper was absolutely riveting, especially Judas' soliloquy. Whereas the earlier portion of the evening had been jovial, no one made so much as a sound during the latter part.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Mr Bommarito's jokes at the beginning of the event were unnecessary and uncalled for. Some can only be characterized as off-color, especially one about "What religion is your bra?" It seems that Salvation Army bras "lift them up" and Baptist bras "make mountains out of molehills." I didn't quite catch what Catholic bras do, but everyone moaned as he said it.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I feared that people might applaud at the end of the reenactment, but they simply sat in stunned silence. It was that effective. Pastor Lyon announced that the actors would station themselves at various places around the hall to minister communion, and he repeated the words of institution. He then invited us to receive communion and then to depart. We sang all three verses of "Let us break bread together" a cappella.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We received communion in the form of matzoh crackers and grape juice, and after that we all left in silence.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – This was a very moving event, but surely not typical of the average Sunday service. And Miss Amanda is no spring chicken, mind you, but she's not yet ready for the walker and oxygen bottle crowd that seem to make up a goodly portion of this Sun City congregation.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I can honestly say that this was one of the most inspiring and awesome services I have ever attended. I thought of little else all during the drive home.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The noodle kugel served at dinner was exceptionally good, but I'll remember Judas' soliloquy long after the noodle kugel has gone through my system.