Spirit of Hope, Peoria, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Spirit of Hope
Location: Peoria, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 21 April 2019, 9:00am

The building

A wigwamish looking structure with a low flat school building attached. Inside is a low-ceilinged room with brick walls painted white, blue carpeting, and a wooden eastward-facing altar. Choir seating is to the right of the altar; musical instruments to the left.

The church

They support the Justa Center, an organization that offers services to homeless seniors; Habitat for Humanity, a worldwide charity that builds and renovates homes for needy families; and several youth groups in conjunction with other churches in the area. They also offer Bible study and run a Montessori school. A number of social activities take place, including jazz concerts, potluck dinners, rummage sales, etc. There is a contemporary service on Saturday evenings, a classic service on Sunday mornings, and a service in Spanish on Sunday afternoons.

The neighborhood

They are located on 75th Avenue just north of Thunderbird Road in this northwestern suburb of Phoenix. The area is primarily residential – nothing of special interest to write home about.

The cast

The pastor.

What was the name of the service?

Easter Sunday Traditional Worship Service.

How full was the building?

I counted room for about 125 and it was about seven-eights full. Predominantly older people with a smattering of younger couples and a few children. I was told that the children were, for the most part, grandchildren of the parishioners. Everyone was smartly dressed for Easter.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Several people said hello, welcome, have you been here before, do you live nearby, etc. ‘You don’t have to sit in the back,’ one woman said. ‘Oh, yes, I do,’ I replied. ‘I get a better view that way.’

Was your pew comfortable?

They were upholstered benches that fit together, each seating about four people. They were comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Lots of loud talking and visiting. Soft music was playing over the PA system. Announcements and Bible verses were displayed on screen.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘The Lord is risen!’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The United Methodist Hymnal, The Faith We Sing, and The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, were in the pews but everything we needed was projected. There was also a handout with announcements and an outline of the service.

What musical instruments were played?

Grand piano, in good tune and nicely played, if somewhat over-dramatically at times. There was a choir of eleven old folks: four old gents and seven old ladies.

Did anything distract you?

The amount of talking before the service was something of a distraction. Also, there was a gentleman who went around writing down names of visitors (I managed to escape his notice). Why was I reminded of Johnny Cash?

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

It was happy but not particularly clappy. A hymn sandwich: lots of announcements, a children’s time, prayer, hymns, a choir anthem, intercessions, the Lord’s Prayer, scripture readings, a dramatic monologue (see below), communion, and dismissal. The hymns and choir anthem were applauded (ugh!). Throughout, everyone seemed very much into what was going on and seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

10 — It wasn’t really a sermon, but rather a dramatic monologue by a woman dressed in a purple robe and blue veil who claimed to be the wife of a man named Simon, whom we might better know as Peter. I didn’t realize at first that it was the pastor, but when she was finished it dawned on me that that’s who she was. She presented her monologue with all the drama and flair of a professional actress – it was really very, very good.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Mrs Simon (or Mrs Peter, if we prefer) said she couldn’t find her husband, that she had been looking everywhere for him. It had been a terrible week, she said. A man named Jesus had come into their lives and had completely transformed her husband, and herself as well. What a gentle, kind man this Jesus was. He taught us so many things. (And here she recounted some of the more familiar gospel stories.) But just the other night, at Passover seder, he said that he would be arrested and would be killed, and that Peter would deny him three times. ‘Oh, no, Lord, never!’ her husband had protested. But Jesus looked at him so gently and lovingly, and said, ‘Yes, before the cock crows.’ And that’s just how it happened. And now we’ll have to excuse her, she said, as she really must find out what happened to her husband.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The pastor’s monologue, for sure. And everyone seemed so very much attuned to the whole service – it was a heavenly thing to witness.

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

Announcements, announcements, and more announcements! In the handout, before the service, at the beginning of the service, at the end of the service – constant! Mind you, I edit and publish the weekly newsletter for a choral group to which I belong, and I know that many people don’t bother to read the newsletter and have to be told several times what’s going on, but I mean, really, now!

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

No after-service refreshments or fellowship had been announced, so I slipped out during the last hymn, which was a happy-clappy camp-meeting style song. A gentleman at the door thanked me for coming and wished me a pleasant week.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I don’t believe there was any.

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

5 — The thing I liked most about this church was the way in which everyone obviously enjoyed each other’s company, and how welcoming they were to a visitor without being overly pushy (setting aside the Johnny Cash gentleman ‘going around taking names’). This style of worship, though, is a little too loose for my taste. But I wouldn’t mind stopping by again. It was certainly an uplifting experience.

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 pastor’s dramatic monologue.

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