Trinity Lutheran, Phoenix, AZ (Exterior)

Trinity Lutheran, Phoenix, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Trinity Lutheran
Location: Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Friday, 20 March 2015, 9:30am

The building

A rather flat modern structure on a campus including parish hall. Inside, one's eye is drawn to a large iconic cross suspended above the altar. The sanctuary is oblong, predominantly brown, with stained glass windows.

The church

They sponsor a men's fellowship, Bible study, prayer group, a chapter of AA, and a food pantry. Adult Christian education, Sunday school and worship service with holy communion take place each Sunday.

The neighborhood

The church is located in the neighborhood known as Sunnyslope. In the early 20th century the area was popular with tuberculosis patients looking to benefit from Arizona's warm, sunny climate. Legend has it that an early resident, admiring one of the area's hills, exclaimed, "What a pretty, sunny slope!" The name stuck. In 1931, wealthy Ohio businessman John C. Lincoln relocated here with his wife, Helen, whom doctors had given two months to live due to advanced tuberculosis. Mrs Lincoln lived on to the ripe old age of 102, bequeathing her entire fortune to the hospital where she had been treated. Today the John C. Lincoln Health Center is one of Arizona's major facilities for the treatment of breast cancer, heart disease and deep vein thrombosis. The church sits on a quiet, rather plebeian residential street at the base of what very well may be the "pretty, sunny slope" that gave the place its name.

The cast

The Revd Jacqui Pagel, pastor, wearing alb, cincture, purple stole and a pectoral cross. She was assisted by an elderly gentleman in alb and cincture who served as crucifer, acolyte and lector, and who also ministered the chalice at communion. Joanie Katzenberger played piano and (I learned later) Robin Peterson presided at the organ.

What was the name of the service?

Worship Service with Mime of the Passion.

How full was the building?

If it were chock full to the rafters, it could probably hold about 250. I counted about 70 - a goodly mix of young couples, middle aged and elderly folk. Very few children, though. Everyone was spread out, so it looked more full than it was.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The pastor herself was manning the welcome desk. As I approached, she said, "Hello. Good morning. Welcome. May I make a name tag for you?" (I declined.) She went on to explain that the service would begin outside with the blessing of palms, but that I was welcome to sit inside if I preferred.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes - padded pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Both inside and out, people visited among themselves. An electronic carillon played a medley of old chestnuts: "Lift High the Cross", "I Love to Tell the Story", "Onward Christian Soldiers", etc.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A leaflet for the order of service, and a separate handout for the blessing of palms and procession. Evangelical Lutheran Worship (which the leaflet called the cranberry hymnal) and The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, were in the pews, but everything we needed was either in the leaflet or projected. Interestingly, the projected scripture readings were New Revised Standard Version.

What musical instruments were played?

Digital piano, a Clavinova. At first I thought the pianist was alternating between piano and organ stops - the Clavinova's organ stop is very good, but I thought it sounded a bit too good. I realized later that there was a pipe organ in the gallery, which was being played by Ms Peterson. A choir of nine voices (seven women and two men) also sang from the gallery, although they came downstairs for their offertory and communion anthems.

Did anything distract you?

One poor soul had a coughing fit during the pastor's announcements that just wouldn't let up (neither did the announcements!). "Coughing drowns the parson's saw," as Shakespeare wrote. And I realized that the projection screens were actually bed sheets held up and stretched tight by wires.

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

It pretty much followed the standard western liturgical form, with quite a few liberties taken in the language. I was never a fan of Lutheran service music, so I'll refrain from commenting on that. The hymns were all old chestnuts, as were the carillon numbers: "O Sacred Head", "The Old Rugged Cross"," Ride On, Ride On in Majesty." I thought the congregational singing was rather thin, though, especially for Lutherans. A highlight of the service was the mime of the Passion, which I will say more about below.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

5 minutes - but there was only a children's sermon today due to the reading of the Passion and the mime.

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

7 – Pastor Jacqui seemed to engage the children's attention, but her sermon had nothing to do with the topic as announced, which was Jesus loves children.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

What does Palm Sunday mean? The people greeted Jesus with shouts of Hosanna. That means woo-hoo! The church uses lots of words nobody else uses: Hosanna, Amen, Alleluia. They are special words because special things happen as the church gets ready for Easter. Come to church, and bring your parents with you, during Holy Week and Easter - but God will still love you even if you don't come.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The Passion mime was performed by the youth group - five girls and one boy - in black leotards and whiteface, as Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings was played over the PA system. The youth portrayed the Last Supper, the agony in the garden, Judas' betrayal, the trial before Pilate, the scourging of Jesus, the crucifixion, and finally the burial of Jesus. It was all very well done and very moving. They had clearly rehearsed well.

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

The congregation applauded the mime, but I guess the youth deserved it. And oh, that Lutheran service music! And we sang the Gloria. During Lent! With purple vestments! Oy veh!

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

A lady saw me looking up at the organ, and she told me a little about how it had been installed in memory of a deceased parishioner. People cleared out pretty fast, though, as a special breakfast had been announced as taking place in the parish hall.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Breakfast consisted of a half dozen different kinds of quiche, plus berries and cut-up melon, rolls, and ham. On a separate table were pastries, donuts and muffins. All delicious! The coffee was served in styrofoam cups and was hot and tasty. A few people shook my hand. The pastor (who had changed into a sleeveless black clerical blouse, clerical collar, and black slacks) came over to sit at my table, as did two people from the choir. We chatted about parish life and the music program. Pleasant.

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

7 – It seems to be a lively and thriving congregation, but I don't live in Sunnyslope and it would be a long drive for me every week.

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 mime of the Passion.

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