Southwest Church of Christ, Phoenix, AZ (Exterior)

Southwest Church of Christ, Phoenix, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Southwest Church of Christ
Location: Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 14 May 2017, 10:15am

The building

A flat oblong building. One enters a spacious lobby off of which open the sanctuary and a classroom wing. The sanctuary is windowless and hexagonal in shape, with ivory colored walls and red carpeting. On a platform up front are the communion table and a pulpit. The room is cooled via ceiling fans and lit via fluorescent lighting in the ceiling.

The church

There are groups for men, women, children and youth. Their fellowship ministry (quoting from their website) "strives to point families and individuals in the direction of building authentic and meaningful relationships with each other, as well as others in the surrounding community." There are Bible classes on Sunday and Wednesday, and two services each Sunday - one in the morning and another in the evening.

The neighborhood

They are located at 8720 West Indian School Road, a working-class residential community at the western edge of the Phoenix city limits. The location was the subject of some notoriety recently when the body of a small child was discovered buried on a vacant lot adjacent to the church. As of this writing, the identity of Baby Phoenix and the circumstances surrounding its death and burial are still under investigation.

The cast

Jon Rowe, pulpit minister, preached. Elder George Weed greeted the congregation and led the singing. Elder Richard Sims spoke the opening prayer. David Bowersock read from scripture. The bulletin stated that Deacon Troy Williams would preside over the Lord's Supper, but the gentleman who stood to do so began by saying, "I'm not Troy Williams." He did not, however, tell us who he was.

What was the name of the service?

Morning Worship Assembly

How full was the building?

I counted room for about 400 and it was about half full. Lots of women and small children (who left for Sunday school before the sermon), mostly middle-aged men. All were smartly dressed.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

As I entered the lobby, a gentleman said, "Good morning. There's a Bible class in progress if you'd care to join it." I replied that I didn't want to enter late and would prefer to sit in the lobby. "Here's a bulletin for you," the gentleman said. Inside, several men (but no women - I think they were all elders) shook my hand, introduced themselves, and said they were glad to see me.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes - padded wooden pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was hardly anyone there until about 10.00, when people began to enter (I assume the Bible class had let out). Lots of visiting among friends. People continued to come in until about 10.20, when the service began and people quieted down as Elder George Weed began speaking.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome on this beautiful Mothers Day."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Holy Bible, New International Version, and Songs of Faith and Praise (with shape-note notation) were in the pews, but all readings and hymns were projected (again, with the hymns in shape-note notation).

What musical instruments were played?

None. As is the tradition in the Churches of Christ, the people sang unaccompanied in perfect four-part harmony.

Did anything distract you?

Two planters on the front platform resembled a chamber pot that I have, a family heirloom. A strange heirloom, but Miss Amanda has a strange family. A young woman entered wearing a skirt that, if it was any shorter, she could have used as a belt. She was heavily tattooed, including her legs. A gentleman wore clothes in various shades of brown that matched quite nicely, but he also wore pink socks.

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

A hymn sandwich, heavy on the hymns and a little lighter on the sandwich ingredients (prayers). The music was all from the Sacred Harp tradition and, as mentioned, was sung unaccompanied in four-part harmony. At the Lord's Supper, the words of institution were projected but not pronounced. We received pew-style, helping ourselves to a matzo cracker and a wee cuppie of grape juice that the elders distributed.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

35 minutes.

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

8 – Jon Rowe spoke loud and clear and seldom glanced down at notes. He held our attention throughout.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

His text was Matthew 15:21-28 (Jesus heals the daughter of a woman of faith). On Mothers Day it is fitting that we remember all the little things that mothers do. The Bible is full of examples of great mothers, but perhaps none more so than the nameless Canaanite woman who prayed that Jesus would rid her daughter of demons. Jesus told her that her faith was great. What does it take to have great faith? Three things: knowing where to turn for help (to Jesus); persistence; and satisfaction with what God gives. Faith is not doctrine or ritual - it's feeling the need for Jesus. And we can't expect instant results when we pray - God will build character and grant wisdom as he answers our prayers. Our problems are temporary; character and wisdom last forever. And the Canaanite woman knew that whatever crumb Jesus would give her would be quite enough. It will actually be much, much more than a mere crumb. The woman prayed with a complete absence of pride and of sense of worthiness - not "Look at how good I am, Jesus" but rather "Jesus, have mercy." How great is our faith?

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The old traditional Sacred Harp hymns, sung in perfect four-part harmony, were a pleasure to hear. A woman behind me sang the alto line note-perfect.

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

As mentioned, the hymn sandwich was heavy on hymns and lighter on the sandwich. I would have liked to hear more prayer, perhaps intercessions (there were none), and the words of institution at communion spoken rather than merely projected.

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

The service ended with a recognition of mothers. My mother passed away twelve years ago, but I still find Mothers Day difficult. So I slipped out quietly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I dont believe any was on offer. The bulletin announced that next Sunday there would be a congregational luncheon following the service.

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

3 – The music was great but I need more of a spiritual diet than just a hymn sandwich - and a lean one at that.

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 shape-note singing and the woman who sang alto.

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