A very interesting modern tent-shaped concrete structure with a large rectangular block into which has been cut a large round stained glass window. The interior is L-shaped, with a platform at the juncture of the two sides forming the L. On the platform is a large pulpit, and a communion table sits in front. A large black drape concealed the stained glass window mentioned above, and a projection screen was affixed to the drape. The room itself has a red carpet and cocoa colored concrete walls with yellow trim.
They appear to be very family oriented. There are Bible classes; a Barnabas ministry (whose purpose is to engage newcomers); a hikers' group; care groups; and mission activity both at home and abroad. There are morning and evening worship services each Sunday.
As their name implies, they are located on West Olive Avenue near the western edge of the Phoenix suburb of Peoria. An upscale condominium development is nearby, as well as several middle class housing communities.
Elder Steven Tucker was the song leader; Gary Hill led the prayers; Ian Burkhart read from scripture; Eric Carpenter presided over communion. Interestingly, the preacher was not identified, but judging from the website photos I think he may have been Ray L. Miller, pulpit minister.
What was the name of the service?Morning Worship.
How full was the building?
It was hard to judge the capacity of the room given its unusual shape and configuration, but it was about two-thirds full. I noticed a gentleman walking about clicking a hand counter. The congregation leaned toward the elderly, but there were also quite a few young adults and families with children. Most were smartly dressed; many ladies in hats. One gentleman apparently forgot that he was wearing a hat; had he remembered, his manners would surely have kicked in and he would have removed it.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Several people stopped by to shake my hand and say words to the effect of Hello, welcome, glad to have you here. One gentleman gave me his card and said that if I had any questions that were not answered that morning, I should feel free to call him and we could talk about it.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes - wooden pew with orange padded cushion.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Loud! Lots of visiting.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The song leader began singing the first hymn, "We praise thee, O God", and everyone joined in.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The hardbound Praise for the Lord hymnal, but all the hymns were projected.
What musical instruments were played?
None. The singing was unaccompanied and the music was in shape-note notation. Everyone sang in four-part harmony.
Did anything distract you?
I guess what distracted me the most was the departure of the order of service from the standard order found in most Western churches. For example, communion preceded both the offering and the sermon. I also found myself wishing that the black drape that concealed the stained glass window would be raised (it was, eventually).
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A very sober hymn sandwich: opening hymn, announcements, psalm, prayer, hymn, prayer, hymn, communion, hymn, offering, hymn, reading, sermon, hymn, more announcements, hymn, concluding prayer. At communion, the elders first helped themselves and then distributed the crackers and grape juice pew-style. I say crackers and grape juice because mention was made of the sacrifice of the Cross but not of the Last Supper, and no words of institution were spoken.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – The preacher spoke clearly and in a no-nonsense delivery style, but I thought he could have delivered his message in half the time just as clearly and effectively. And he lapsed not once, but twice, into the fallacy of begging the question (in the classical sense of the term - proving the premise by assuming it to be true) without so much as batting an eyelash.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
There is much talk about the last days - no one is looking forward to that time! There will be much godlessness in evidence, and we are seeing much of that right now. It is the devil's work. The antidote is scripture, the Word of God, which is sacred (as it comes from God) and leads to salvation. The Bible meets every spiritual need. It deserves respect, awe, admiration. The Bible reveals the need for salvation and assures us of eternal life. It is the armor of God that will protect us against the wiles of the devil. Preaching is not meant to entertain or to fill time - it is meant to instill the word of God in us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I am a fan of shape note singing and was hoping that the music would lift me to heaven - but alas, it didn't. Followers of Miss Amanda's reports will know that she is quick to pounce on the banal, vapid lisping that she calls Singing Nun music that is so commonplace in today's churches. But she's afraid she has to report that the music chosen for this service, shape note though it may have been, was overly simplistic and endlessly repetitive - in short, just as banal and vapid as anything one might hear at a guitar mass. Pity, because browsing through the Praise for the Lord hymnal, I spotted lots of old favorites I would have loved to have heard (and sung) in shape note harmony. (Please forgive a hellish rant in the Heaven question.)
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
As mentioned, the preacher fell victim to begging the question. "We'd never know that were in need of salvation if we didn't read it in the Bible." "How do we know we need to be saved? Because the Bible tells us so!" And "Obeying the Word of God will bring us eternal life. How do we know? There it is, right there in the Bible, and the Bible is the Word of God." All of those premises may very well be true, and as Christians we believe they are, but the fact that we are told that they are true is not what makes them true.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no blessing or dismissal - after the concluding prayer, people just sort of got up and wandered off, forming little conversational groups. The gentleman who had given me his card stopped by to say that he hoped I'd come back. No one else took any notice of me or said anything to me. I noticed that the black curtain had been raised, exposing the stained glass window, and I went forward to snap a photo of it. It employs a very abstract design that reminded me of amoebae and paramecia viewed under a microscope. Well, "all creatures great and small," I guess. (Miss Amanda knows she's being naughty.)
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. I stopped at McDonald's for a quick lunch on the way home.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – This is not my style of worship. The only hint of lliturgy we got was when the elders precision-stepped through communion, lifting the elements to their mouths in unison and waiting until all had finished distributing the bread before march-stepping in formation back up to the communion table to fetch the grape juice. And I insist on more substantial music and a preacher who recognizes a fallacy of logic when he sees one.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I am always glad to be a Christian, but I did not find this service at all inspiring.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Begging the question.