Camelback Church of Christ, Phoenix, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Camelback Church of Christ
Location: Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 23 September 2018, 10:30am

The building

A plain, flat structure with a flat oval-shaped dome on top. Not particularly interesting architecturally, I didn’t think. Inside one finds a lobby furnished with couches and armchairs. The worship space is a large, bright room illuminated by turquoise-colored stained glass panels and overhead lighting. There is a platform with lectern and projection screens. Communion elements had been set out on a table.

The church

Their most prominent ministry is their outreach to the deaf, which includes a Bible class, services in American Sign Language, and a fellowship luncheon. Other ministries include a cappella singing groups, youth group, ladies’ group, a seniors’ group called Silver Sages, and 'Leadership Training for Christ.' Oddly, I saw no mention of a men’s group. There are Bible classes and worship services each Sunday for the hearing-enabled and for the deaf, as well as a Wednesday evening meal and devotional meeting.

The neighborhood

They are located at 52nd Street and Camelback Road, in Phoenix’s very posh and very upscale Arcadia neighborhood, which extends across the city line into the nearby suburb of Scottsdale. The neighborhood features large well-kept homes on large well-landscaped lots, as well as expensive restaurants, luxurious resort hotels, and high-class shops and boutiques.

The cast

An elder gave the welcome. A deacon gave the opening prayer. The pulpit minister preached (and looked quite dashing in maroon shirt, dark slacks, and brown cowboy boots). Other gentlemen who were named but whose titles were not given presided over the Lord’s Supper and gave the closing prayer. There was also a gentleman conducting the singing.

What was the name of the service?

Morning Worship.

How full was the building?

I counted room for about 350 and it was about three-eighths full – maybe 150 or so. Predominantly an elderly crowd, with one or two middle aged folk.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes indeed. As soon as I stepped inside, a woman came up to me and said, ‘Hello. Are you visiting?’ In the lobby, other people also came up to me, introduced themselves, and engaged me in conversation. One woman asked, ‘Why were you taking pictures of the building?’ Uh-oh, I thought. I think I gave her a satisfactory answer, and further thought to myself, ‘You’ll soon find out.’ Inside the worship space, one or two people said hello and introduced themselves.

Was your pew comfortable?

A tad hard, but basically OK. Padded. The pews were gently angled around the platform where the lectern was.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The usual visiting among friends.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good morning.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Songs of Faith and The Holy Bible, New International Version were in the pews, but everything we needed was projected. There was also a handout with the order of service and several announcements.

What musical instruments were played?

None. Churches of Christ believe that there is no biblical justification for the use of musical instruments in worship and so all singing is a cappella. I don’t know what they make of Psalm 150.

Did anything distract you?

I think the principal distraction was wondering what to do with my Mystery Worship calling card. I’m always leery of depositing the card in the collection after a rather unpleasant incident several years ago in which an usher angrily demanded to know who had deposited it. If envelopes are provided, I like to enclose the card in an envelope – but there were none available here. If people put their offerings in a sack, I usually feel relatively secure – but there were open baskets today. If the offerings are brought up to the altar in procession, I know I’m not going to be discovered – but if they’re taken away, I always suspect that they’re going to be counted right away and that I will thus be found out. So I ended up not putting anything in the collection. After all, they were already suspicious of my taking pictures. See below for further complications re disposal of the calling card.

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

A rather informal hymn sandwich – heavy on the hymns and light on the sandwich. The singing was all a cappella, in four part harmony, and traditional although I didn’t recognize any of the tunes. The only text I recognized was ‘At the name of Jesus’ but the tune wasn’t King’s Weston, as it usually is. The prayers all sounded rather extemporaneous and definitely took a back seat to the singing. At the Lord’s Supper the words of institution were not spoken, nor was the Last Supper narrative read or referred to. The gentleman presiding over it did, however, say, “This is the most blessed time of our entire week,” which I thought was nice. We received wee square wafers and wee cuppies of grape juice, which the elders distributed to us in our seats.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

25 minutes.

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

5 — I can’t rate the pulpit minister any higher than that because he didn’t speak from the lectern and so was not miked. I had trouble hearing him. His style, though, was informal and conversational and he seemed to have good rapport with the congregation.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

People think ‘freedom’ means doing whatever you want to do. So we can ignore traffic laws, can we, or take whatever we want whether it’s ours or not? No. Freedom without self-control is anarchy. Jesus had the right idea in Matthew 16:24: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’ Look at what Jesus gave up in order to take on the form of man – but as a man he chose to deny what he might have wanted in favor of what the Father wanted: ‘Not as I will, but as you will.’ We must make that choice too. It’s not easy, but God has given us the ability to understand his will. That’s what wisdom is.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Despite my low mark for the pulpit minister’s sermon (‘Morning Lesson,’ they call it), I really did like his message.

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

But I wish I could have understood more of it. If only he had used a microphone.

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

I had to leave during the closing prayer, as I was meeting friends for lunch and I didn’t want to be late for our reservation. As I was leaving, a gentleman shook my hand and thanked me for coming. Out in the lobby, I looked around for a spot where I could lay down my Mystery Worship calling card, but a group of people were standing there eying my every move. As it is, I felt the need to explain to them that I was leaving because I was meeting friends for lunch. ‘Have a good lunch,’ one lady said.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I had coffee out in the lobby before the service. It was strong (I like it that way) but bordering on the too strong. There was also a basket of scones, and they were delicious – I had two. A lady asked me how the coffee was. I replied, ‘Strong but drinkable.’ ‘I’ll let them know,’ she said.

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

0 – Don’t get me wrong. They seemed like lovely people very much into their worship experience. But it’s not my style. I prefer a more liturgical worship. I did enjoy the four-part a cappella music even though I didn’t know the tunes. Also, I don’t live in the Arcadia neighborhood and am seldom out that way except to visit friends, as was the case today.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

‘Why were you taking pictures of the building?’

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