Mystery Worshipper: Fading Lights, accompanied by Amanda B. Reckondwythe
Church: Camelback Seventh Day Adventist
Location: Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 29 November 2008, 10:50am
The church is a fairly modern round brick structure with a 1970s feel to the architecture. The sanctuary is semi-circular, with two large flat video screens in the front as well as a smaller monitor toward the rear of the sanctuary. A baptismal pool is located on a balcony above the main stage. There were chairs on the stage which could have been for a choir, but they were not used during this service. Since choir rehearsals were mentioned in the church calendar, I'm guessing the regular choir was away for the holiday weekend. The most striking feature of the church is a large window that allows a view of Camelback Mountain. There is also a very large crying room at the back of the church, which several parents took advantage of.
One of the inserts in the worship guide contained a calendar showing many of the church's activities. They are focused on health, and an upcoming seminar on diet and genes was mentioned during the opening portion of the service. Sabbath school classes are conducted in English, Korean and Serbo-Croatian.
The church is located on East Camelback Road in a very affluent area of Phoenix, near the border with Scottsdale and right next to the posh Phoenician resort, "a luxurious oasis for relaxation, celebration and rejuvenation," as their website proclaims. Just a couple miles away is Scottsdale Fashion Square, the most upscale shopping center in the state of Arizona. The physical setting of the church is beautiful, with a gorgeous view of Camelback Mountain behind the church.
Quite a few people. The Revd Charles White, senior pastor, led the service and delivered the sermon. The Revd Benjamin Lundquist, youth pastor, led the reception of an infant into the church. A visiting minister conducted a baptism. Guest musicians John and Mary Giger presented a program of spiritual music, accompanied by Dorothy Anderson on piano. A gentleman whose name was not given played the organ. In our party were Amanda B. Reckondwyth, Zeke, and Sir Kevin, as well as yours truly.
What was the name of the service?A service of Thanksgiving and Praise with John and Mary Giger.
How full was the building?
Almost entirely full. I'd say the church can sit 600 and the attendance was very close to that number. This is remarkable since the service took place over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, which is a very popular travel time. There was a wide mix of people and the children were quite well behaved. As is to be expected in this denomination, the congregation were well dressed; this is not a jeans and shorts crowd.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. As we entered, a gentleman shook our hands, said he was glad we had come, and handed us a worship guide that had several inserts.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was well padded and was quite comfortable. There were no kneelers, which was interesting as we were asked to kneel during part of the prayer time. A bit unusual to kneel on the carpet in dress pants.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
While not the noisiest I've ever experienced, there was a definite level of audible conversation. At least there were no teens yelling across the church. The two guest musicians tested the sound levels and rehearsed a bit, but stopped well before the service began.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and happy Sabbath."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
In the pews were the Seventh Day Adventist Hymnal as well as The Holy Bible, New International Version. However, on the few instances where scripture was read or referred to during the service, another translation was used. Many people had brought their own Bibles with them.
What musical instruments were played?
Electric organ and a very nice concert grand piano in perfect tune – I didn't get to see the make.
Did anything distract you?
The mountain view through the large window was distracting, although in a good way. There was more conversation in the pews during the service than I'm comfortable with. In particular, two young girls sitting behind us conducted an endless barrage of chatter until Miss Amanda turned around and shot them a glare that could have stopped Niagara Falls.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I'd describe it as contemporary. People applauded for the musicians. The first part of the service had more of a feel of a business conference rather than a worship service as various people got up to speak. There was a reception of an infant into the church, and a baptism of an adult candidate by immersion. We sang only one hymn, a very traditional one ("Great is Thy Faithfulness"), although we sang it twice. Much of the service featured a duet by the two guest singers accompanied by piano (and accompanied with virtuosity and flair!). The singers performed for 30 minutes and sang both sacred music and some secular pieces with a religious theme. One of the latter, "There Was Joy in My Mother's House," caused a woman sitting in front of us to break into tears. While John and Mary Giger were excellent, I was more in "concert" mode than "worship" mode by the end of their performance. They did make some biblical references in between songs. In fact, they were the only people in the service to mention the awaiting of the coming of Christ. Perhaps it was this non-liturgical church's way of acknowledging Advent! (As Miss Amanda remarked, "What do they know about Advent? They're Adventists!")
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – I've been to many churches of various denominations. This is the first church I've ever been to without a word being read from any of the gospels. The only scripture that was read occurred during the sermon: Romans 3:24 ("Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus").
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Pastor White spoke about the meaning of "giving" in the word "Thanksgiving." It wasn't a sermon as much as a feel-good story about a clerk in a food stamp office who was required to work on Thanksgiving Day. The clerk received a call from a woman who was unable to use her food stamps to buy food for Thanksgiving. The clerk made several calls and was unable to find a store that would assist the woman. Finally, the clerk reached the owner of a grocery store who agreed to bring food from his own table to the woman. While the story was touching, it almost seemed too perfect, as if it came out of a human interest piece from a newspaper on a slow day.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I've never seen a full immersion baptism before. That was very interesting. Also, the skill of the pianist. She played quite well and the piano was truly a remarkable instrument.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
During their presentation, one of the guest singers made a very odd remark about "savages in loincloths." He mentioned that two warring tribes on a Pacific island had brokered a peace treaty by exchanging a child between them called the peace child. "And so a child," he said, "made it possible for these savages in loincloths to live in harmony with each other." I'm certain we don't need to refer to anyone with an outdated stereotype during a worship service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not very much. There was a long queue for the restroom, which seemed far too small for a church of this size. Otherwise, the congregation seemed to disperse quickly. We shook the pastor's hand on the way out, and he thanked us for coming.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no coffee or after-service food provided.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – Realistically, I'd have a hard time making a non-liturgical church my regular home. I found it odd to sing "Great is Thy Faithfulness" rather than "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus" as the opening hymn during Advent. Still, if I lived close to this church, I'd feel comfortable visiting on another Saturday.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. This congregation takes their faith seriously and the service showed that.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
I'd have to say the very strange feeling of not knowing what day it was during most of Saturday. I kept thinking it was Sunday since I was dressed in church clothes and had gone to a service... on Saturday! One of our party even made the mistake of asking someone if a building across the campus was the Sunday school.