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: Saturday, 23 February 2019, 4:00pm

The building

A modern brick and metal edifice with two wings at angles to a copper-clad cylinder. Inside, the pews are slanted downward to the altar, behind which is the Lady chapel inside the copper cylinder. Along the side walls are Stations of the Cross consisting of glass etchings on wood backgrounds – very simple, but lovely. To the left are the choir seats and the organ. A school and parish hall complete the campus.

The church

Their ministries and outreaches are all well documented on their website. Special mention goes to a kids' cafe to give children a safe place to go after school to get a nutritious snack and help with homework.

The neighborhood

Tempe (pronounced tem-PEE) is a middle class suburb to the southeast of Phoenix. Originally called Hayden’s Ferry in honor of Charles T. Hayden, who was instrumental in the development of Arizona in its territorial days, its name was changed to Tempe after someone suggested that the Salt River valley resembled the Vale of Tempe in Greece. (Ironically, the Salt River, which runs through a large portion of central Arizona, is dammed at Tempe and so the remainder of its bed is dry most of the year.) Tempe is home to Arizona State University, and downtown is very much a college town. The church is located some distance from downtown in a quiet residential neighborhood near the ring road known as the Loop 101 that encircles the Phoenix metropolitan area (well, three-quarters of the way anyway; construction is finally underway on the final quarter of the loop).

The cast

The Bishop of Arizona was the celebrant. He was assisted by several clergy, including of course the new rector; crucifer; thurifer; acolytes; lectors. The guest preacher was a fellow seminarian of the rector. This service was the bishop’s swan song, so to speak, as he will be retiring at the end of this month. The bishop was vested in eucharistic garb and wore his miter and carried his crosier; the others were vested in cassock and cotta or alb and stole, as befitted their office. I’ll have more to say about the crucifer in a moment.

What was the name of the service?

The Renewal of Ministry with the Welcoming of a New Rector.

How full was the building?

Just about completely full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A lady at the door smiled as she handed me a service leaflet. Inside, a few people shook my hand and said hello.

Was your pew comfortable?

Unpadded wooden pew – comfortable enough.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Lots of excitement and anticipation. Lots of visiting among parishioners. The sweet smell of incense perfumed the air. The pianist struck up a prelude, Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” which the congregation took as a signal to talk louder. Pity, as it was masterfully played.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

“I’m so used to saying ‘Good morning’ that I was about to say ‘Good morning.’”

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Everything was in a very nicely prepared service leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?

Electronic organ and grand piano. There was also a mixed choir.

Did anything distract you?

The sound of everyone turning the various pages in the service leaflet in unison was somewhat distracting – and rather amusing.

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

It was basically a said eucharist taken mainly from Enriching Our Worship 4: Supplemental Liturgical Materials. The bishop asked the congregation if it was their will that the new rector be installed, and then read the letter of institution and presented it to the rector. Members of the congregation presented him with a Bible. We renewed our baptismal vows and recited the Litany for the Mission of the Church. There was incense (although the clergy were not censed – just the altar and congregation). No bells at the consecration; no chanting. The exchange of peace was rather lively. The music was all old standard hymns for the most part, with a couple of exceptions that I’ll note momentarily. At the offertory, in lieu of the customary Doxology, we sang the first verse of St Patrick’s Breastplate – a pleasant surprise and totally appropriate.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

14 minutes.

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

5 — I’m sorry I can’t rate the guest preacher’s delivery any higher, as his sermon was well developed and appropriately peppered with humor. But he talked so fast that I struggled to understand him. I couldn’t imagine what his hurry was.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

His text was the second reading, Ephesians 2:13-22 (Christ is our peace). What does “peace” mean? Google it and you’ll find it defined as the absence of war. So the whole concept of Jesus boils down to no war? No way! The meaning of peace differs from culture to culture. It can mean that inner feeling we have when we answer God’s calling. The Hebrew word “shalom” implies the very best someone can give to another. God gave us his very best – Jesus! Go out and offer Jesus to the world – offer peace to everybody. Want to be part of what is best for everyone.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

At communion, the choir sang “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” to the tune of Picardy. The pianist prefaced it with a chorale prelude on the theme. It was simply ethereal – elegant! Truly a foretaste of heaven.

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

Miss Amanda hates to keep harping on this subject, as it is so easily correctable. But everyone knows that the Baby Jesus and his Blessed Mother weep profusely whenever they see anyone on the altar wearing any footwear other than black shoes and black socks. The crucifer, who otherwise performed his duties with dignity and aplomb, wore the scruffiest sneakers I have seen on a young man in a long time. Shame on him! One hopes that the new rector will put an immediate end to this abomination. And returning a moment to the music, the Sanctus was the most tuneless, unsingable setting I have ever heard. I can’t imagine the angels thinking it suitable for their continuous praise of the Godhead, let alone us joining the heavenly choir in same.

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

Both the bishop and the new rector stationed themselves at the back of the church to shake everyone’s hand. After that, we all headed over to the parish hall for a reception that had been planned.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Several kinds of red and white wine were on hand, as well as soft drinks, lemonade and water for those with long distances to drive. A feast of pasta, egg rolls, beans, a casserole, cut-up veggies, cut-up fruit, crackers and pastries was set out buffet-style. I sat at a table with several others and enjoyed pleasant conversation.

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

10 — I appreciate a church like Epiphany, with good liturgy, good music and good preaching. But I think the next time I visit I’ll take that crucifer out shopping for shoes!

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


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

The choir’s heavenly rendition of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.”

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