This 75 year old church is in a residential community of approximately the same vintage. The pumpkin-colored adobe buildings on the campus include a sanctuary and smaller rooms used for fellowship and classes. The sanctuary's wooden pews are each covered with a long green cushion. The internal adobe walls have stained glass windows on each side of the sanctuary. The front of the sanctuary is adorned with a simple cross flanked by an American flag and a Christian flag. The blank wall to the right of the cross serves as the "screen" where the lyrics and scripture are projected from a device mounted on one of the rustic light fixtures that hang down from the dark wooden rafters.
The church has a clear commitment to community service. Their website mentions various outreaches. Noteworthy are Anthony's Breakfast, which provides breakfast and gifts of clothing to the homeless on Christmas day; and Casa de Elizabeth, an orphanage in Mexico to which the church donates food and toiletries. They also support various organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Humane Borders.
The church is located one block off a busy thoroughfare on the south side of Tucson, in an older, tranquil residential community of multi-colored adobe homes. Typical of neighborhoods in the south side, this one is primarily Hispanic and not well-to-do, but on a sunny Sunday morning it felt safe and welcoming.
The Revd Anna Bell, pastor.
What was the name of the service?Contemporary Worship
How full was the building?
The sanctuary was about one-third full. The congregation were mostly Caucasian and most likely did not walk to church.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A greeter shook my hand and gave me the small church newsletter. A man introduced himself, saying, "I don't think I've seen you here before." He later encouraged me to come back whenever I'd like.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were padded and quite comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a loud worship band rehearsing. The pastor was speaking into her microphone, apparently for a sound check. People were trickling in – talking, hugging, etc. The pastor visited around before the service. There was a feeling of closeness and familiarity.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning! We're glad you're all here for worship."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were used. Lyrics to the songs were on the screen, as well as the Bible passage referenced during the sermon.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, guitars, drum set, bongos. The band was carefully fit into the small upper left side of the platform behind a small organ and piano (which were not used during the contemporary service). Interesting also to note that the band remained on the platform for the entire service, including the sermon: the musicians stayed with their instruments and the vocalists sat behind their microphones.
Did anything distract you?
A man was talking loudly during the first song about financial matters, possibly the church's budget. During the sermon, one of the guitar players was practising fingerings on his guitar!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service was very informal. The pastor, dressed in a sleeveless top, capris and sandals, recited an impassioned opening extemporaneous prayer covering hurricane victims, unrest in Iraq and other far corners of the earth, an orphanage in Mexico, and Wingspan (a local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community group). The congregation was small but sang enthusiastically. One congregant used sign language as she bounced to the opening music. The music leaned toward happy-clappy but not trendy. Most of the songs had gospel content, but one was more secular and sentimental. All the songs had a 70s pop feel. The Lord's Prayer was recited with everyone holding hands.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
2 – The preacher's voice was somewhat breathy, with exaggerated inflections. I wasn't sure if that was her normal voice.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Pastor Bell compared John 8:48-59 (Jesus outrages the Jews by applying the name of God to himself) to a book called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, a Toltec practitioner. (Toltec appears to be an ancient Mexican form of self-help with gnostic overtones.) Specifically, the pastor referred to Ruiz's second rule of life: "Don't take anything personally." She eisegeted the rule into the passage from scripture.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Everyone in the congregation holding hands during the Lord's Prayer.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The use of a pop psychology book by a Toltec practitioner in the sermon. Also, the mention of gay, lesbian and transgender support no fewer than three times at various points in the service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the service was dismissed, most people stayed in their seats to visit with those seated around them. Several people introduced themselves to me. It was quite a friendly atmosphere.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were no snacks or coffee.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – I would be uncomfortable there, because it is somewhat liberal. Although their website states that "Sexuality is not the defining issue of our church," this issue was touched on several times, as I mentioned above, with a view toward affirming those practising homosexuality.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No. There were too many things that made me feel a bit uneasy.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The nifty "oldness" of the sanctuary, and the row of small but pretty stained glass windows up the side walls.