Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: Sunrise United Methodist
Location: Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Thursday, 18 April 2019, 7:00pm
A modern concrete and cinder block structure, irregularly shaped, set in what is called desert landscaping in these parts. Inside, one finds a square room with beige walls and grey/brown carpet. A simple altar rests on a raised platform, with lectern and credence table. Choir seating is to the right. Behind the altar is a large cross draped in purple – well, lavender, actually.
They have a youth group and put on a men’s breakfast the first Saturday of each month (I saw no mention of a women’s breakfast) and they have a “Getting to Know You” group that meets each Wednesday. They also put on a potluck luncheon on the last Sunday of each month. There is one service each Sunday preceded by a fellowship hour.
They are located on North 7th Avenue south of the ring road known as the Loop 101, in the Deer Valley neighborhood of Phoenix. Deer Valley is primarily residential, although several industries have facilities there, including Nokia, Honeywell International, and the pet animal products and services chain PetSmart (whose headquarters are located there). Deer Valley Airport, which serves private planes and charter flights, is a prominent feature.
The pastor, wearing a black academic gown and red stole draped over her left shoulder as opposed to around the neck.
What was the name of the service?Maundy Thursday Service.
How full was the building?
I counted about 90 chairs. There were 12 people present: two middle aged couples, one elderly couple, all the rest old ladies.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
‘You’ll have to take a seat up front,’ a lady told me. ‘You’ll find a white book on every other chair; if someone sits next to you, you’ll have to share.’ ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed,’ I thought, and I did – but no one sat next to me; I had the row to myself. Later that same lady shook my hand and said, ‘Hello. Nice to have you here.’ Another lady greeted me in similar fashion, but otherwise I was left alone. One gentleman sitting across the aisle did eye me suspiciously as I was taking notes, but I ignored him.
Was your pew comfortable?
Cushioned chair – comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Fairly quiet – some visiting. The pianist played a medley of old favorite hymns.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Good evening and welcome to our Maundy Thursday worship service.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The aforementioned ‘white book’ was a loose leaf binder containing the evening’s service. We sang from The United Methodist Hymnal. The Holy Bible, New International Version, was in a seat pocket at every seat.
What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano that could stand a visit from the piano tuner. There was a choir of six elderly souls – five ladies and a gentleman – dressed in blue robes.
Did anything distract you?
One of the ladies in the choir had dyed her hair blue-green with a gold streak. Some people were carrying on a rather loud conversation in a side room.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly stiff-upper-lip. It loosely followed the standard Western liturgical format: hymns, confession and pardon, Old Testament reading, gospel reading, sermon, exchange of peace, communion, dismissal. The hymns were all old traditional stand-bys. For Maundy Thursday the service ended with the stripping of the altar, but there was no washing of feet.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 — The pastor read the sermon from a prepared text but tried not to look like she was. They say that every good sermon has three exit paths, and the preacher should always take the first. This sermon had four, possibly five – see below.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Maundy Thursday is a special day on which we remember the Last Supper. The Latin mandatum means ‘command.’ Jesus gave the apostles (and, by extension, us) a new commandment: to love one another as he loves us. We should take Jesus’ commandment seriously. But what is expected of us? In ancient time foot washing was done by slaves; it was demeaning and humiliating for someone of greater rank to wash the feet of a person of lower rank. Jesus did it to show that no service is too demeaning or too difficult. Love crosses all lines. [Exit point #1] Jesus knew what was about to happen to him, but he gave the apostles one more lesson – the one that matters most: love one another. [Exit point #2] There are many ways that people advertise their faith: bumper stickers, greeting cards, etc. But what matters is that we live our faith. [Exit point #3] Imagine the faces of those you love, and then imagine the faces of those who are hard to love. Jesus touched the untouchables, and he expects us to do likewise. It’s not easy, but we must open our hearts to love. [Exit point #4] The pastor concluded with a quote by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin [possibly exit point #5].
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Communion was in the form of a large crusty, chewy loaf of bread broken in two, from which the pastor tore off morsels to hand to us. We then intincted our morsel into a chalice of grape juice. I like communion done that way as opposed to receiving a thin wafer or tiny cube, which in all probability was not the kind of bread Jesus gave to his apostles.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The room was very dark – the altar lights were never turned on. I was surprised that the choir could see their music or that the pastor could see her sermon notes.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no hanging around. The altar was stripped in silence, and we were requested to depart in silence.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – I found this service moving, but I saw nothing that would draw me back to this church. The congregation appear to be mostly elderly – the sure sign of a dying church – and I like a little more pomp and ceremony to my liturgy. There are Methodists who do it – I've seen them.
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 communion bread.