Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: Santa Teresita
Location: El Mirage, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 7 August 2011, 11:00am
A sand-colored brick building with arched portico. The interior is a plain square room with a tiny versus populum altar on a raised platform backed by a green curtain. Small stained glass windows on the east wall depict the four evangelists.
They have a religious education program and are laying plans for an upcoming parish dance, but other than that I don't think they sponsor very many activities. There is a Saturday evening mass plus one Sunday mass in English, and two Sunday masses in Spanish.
El Mirage is one of Phoenix's northwest suburbs. The church is located on a side street just off Grand Avenue, a major thoroughfare heading northwest out of Phoenix. This is a poor, predominately Hispanic area that more well-to-do Phoenicians seldom if ever visit.
The Revd Stephen Schack, pastor; the Revd Mr Jos Orozco, deacon. The pastor was vested in alb and a long flowing green chasuble; the deacon in alb and a colorfully pattered deacon's stole. There was also a crucifer in alb whose name was not given.
What was the name of the service?Mass in English.
How full was the building?
I counted room for about 200, and it was pretty much full, with only a few empty places. Lots of young adults and older people, and families with small children.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes plain standard wooden pew with fold-down kneeler.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People entered quietly; I observed no visiting. I sat in the back row, and shortly after I sat down a gentleman indicated that he'd like to go in past me. He seemed rather upset that I was sitting at the end of the row. A few minutes later, a lady walked up and had an extended conversation with the gentleman. Then she reached over the back of the pew and placed her purse and a water bottle next to me. It seemed clear that I was sitting in "her" seat, and so I moved up to the next row. No sooner had I done so when the gentleman sidled over to the end of the row and the lady sat down next to him.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone. Another beautiful Sunday."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The paperback Breaking Bread and an announcement sheet. Flor y Canto was available for use at the Spanish services.
What musical instruments were played?
Two guitars; an upright piano stood unused. Both guitarists were older men. There was a choir of about 12 people, mostly older women, two men and two boys.
Did anything distract you?
The usual gaggle of fidgeting, babbling children. I spotted lots of heavily tattooed bare arms, not only among the men but also among some amply proportioned women.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A standard novus ordo mass. No one sang except the choir, and no one joined in any of the prayers. I was surprised to see that the deacon did not read the gospel, although he performed all of his other assigned functions. There were bells at the elevation, and the priest lifted the consecrated elements in one hand, as I have seen done in other Hispanic churches. We received communion under both species.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Father Schack spoke in a friendly, smiling, easygoing manner that made his sermon easy to listen to, even if he did ramble a bit.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Our lives are full of things to do. We tend to look for God in the big things of life, forgetting that he often makes his presence known in the little things. Thus it's easy to miss him. If only we could have as much faith in God as he has in us! We must quiet ourselves down, refocus and reorganize, and offer our small selves to God. He will turn the little into a superabundance.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The communion hymn was one of my favorites, "Amazing Grace", which it's pretty hard to mangle although I've certainly heard it mangled in my time. I've heard better renditions than today's, but the choir did a better job of it than they did with the rest of the music. Speaking of which...
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The rest of the music was the standard singing nun drivel. The choir sang without any attention paid to choral technique. The soloist (one of the guitar players) sang slightly off key and suffered from shortness of breath, producing such interesting effects as "Lord, let us see your [gasp] kindness."
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
About two-thirds of the people left during the closing hymn; the remainder stayed in place until the hymn was done. I observed only a minimum of after-mass visiting. At any rate, no one paid any attention to me.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – I might go back one Sunday to see what the spirit is like at one of the Spanish masses, but this English mass really didn't do anything for me. The parish dance might be a hoot to drop in on – plenty of damas y caballeros in ruffled dresses and pointed cowboy boots.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, in spite of it all.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The large, bare-armed tattooed ladies in the congregation.