Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: Vineyard North Phoenix
Location: Glendale, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 29 May 2016, 9:15am
They have two campuses in the Phoenix area; I visited their Glendale facility. The building appears round from the front, but it's actually anvil-shaped and sits on a campus that includes offices, classrooms, conference rooms, prayer room, and something called the compassion building, from which it seems their charitable activities are administered. Inside the main building, one finds oneself within a spacious lobby with couches and lounge chairs, a coffee bar (called Sacred Grounds), restrooms, an information desk, and book shop. The auditorium looks like a concert hall, with a large stage flanked by video screens, theater-style seats, and a balcony. The color scheme throughout is light brown.
As with most megachurches, they have numerous ministries directed at all age groups; these are well described on their website. I'll just mention one their ministry to the deaf and hard of hearing, which consists of providing signing interpreters at the early service; making interpreters available for classes, small groups, programs and events; and a fellowship group. They have a Saturday evening service and two Sunday services. Youth night is held on Wednesday evenings except the first Wednesday of each month.
Glendale is the first suburb you come to as you leave Phoenix in a northwesterly direction. It is a sprawling city with many diverse neighborhoods. Vineyard's Glendale campus is on Peoria Avenue at 62nd Avenue, a rather plebeian residential area sprinkled with strip malls.
Craig Beyer, youth pastor, was the preacher.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Service
How full was the building?
The ground floor looked fairly full. The balcony, where I sat, was about half full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman at the door said "Hello" as he gave me an announcement sheet. Inside, several people smiled and nodded.
Was your pew comfortable?
Theater-style chair; very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was like a movie theater or concert hall before the show. Lots of visiting. I noticed that tables had been set out on which were placed trays of wee cuppies full of grape juice. A sign indicated that the cups were double cups containing not only juice but also a morsel of bread. I didn't examine them, though, so I don't know exactly what the arrangement was. I'll have more to say about these later.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
It opened with the customary 20-minute "worship" by the band, followed by a welcoming video. The first words spoken by a real live person were, "Well, hello, everyone. How are we doing today?"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
What musical instruments were played?
Acoustic upright piano, three guitars, drums, a female vocalist.
Did anything distract you?
A section of the hall had been reserved for hearing-impaired persons; a lady stood in front of this section signing the worship songs as well as all spoken words. I noticed during the worship that many of the people sitting there were signing the words to the songs right back at her! Distracting in a feel-good sort of way. During the sermon, a little girl wandered up into the balcony and looked around, obviously lost. She eventually went back downstairs, one hopes to be reunited with her parents.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Typical evangelical megachurch - happy-clappy. Lots of hand raising, arm waving, clapping to the music, applauding, shouting out. The music was loud Christian rock with lyrics suggesting that God exists only for me and no one else. I was glad I had brought my earplugs with me. There was only one prayer, no readings from scripture other than a quoted fragment or two during the sermon, but lots of announcements and previews of coming attractions.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
1 – It was more a lecture on adolescent psychology than a sermon. Pastor Craig did, however, speak clearly and with feeling. He connected well with the listeners.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Young parents often don't have a clue as to how to raise their children, who are miracles from God. They work hard at being the best possible parents and even see some positive results. But then the children become teenagers, and what used to be cute and funny isn't so anymore - and parents have the battle scars to prove it! Young children are like puppies - loving, obedient, accepting. But teenagers are like cats - aloof, disobedient, independent, challenging. What worked before for the parents doesn't work anymore. But it is up to the parents to point their children in the right direction amid conflicting value systems. The day will come when all of a sudden they will no longer be cats, but puppies once again.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Nothing - well, maybe the hearing-impaired people signing along with the worship songs.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
An announcement was made that we could help ourselves to the communion cuppies at any time we wished during the service. I had never seen communion done this way before. No words of institution were spoken; there was no sense of a communal meal, just serve-yourself refreshments buffet style. It wasnt like communion at all, in my opinion.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People cleared out pretty fast. Out in the lobby, people were coming in for the next service. There was some mingling and visiting, but not much. Bottom line, no one said anything to me.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. Coffee was available pre-service, and it was hot and bitter-strong. I like strong coffee, but not bitter-strong. I saw no evidence of other beverages or any nosh being available.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – Based on the lecture on adolescent psychology - oops, I mean sermon - this is a church for families with children, not for old spinsters like Miss Amanda. Even though the regulars seem to know each other and enjoy each other's company, I felt no sense of community.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No. I didn't feel like I had been to church at all.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?