The congregation was formed in 1905 and met in the schoolhouse, the dining room of a hotel, and private homes until 1907, when they built their first church. That building was replaced in 1929 by one known as the Little White Church, which served until 1953, when the congregation built the present structure with their own labor. It's a simple, rather squat-looking symmetrical brick building with steeple. A wing to the left houses the parish hall and office. The interior looks fresh and new, with a beamed ceiling, light colored wooden pews, and a brick wall behind the communion table.
This appears to be a very active and engaged congregation. They sponsor a home for children separated from their parents, a group home for developmentally disabled adults, and mission work in Mexico, Brazil, Rwanda and Taiwan. They have a Stephen ministry, a chapter of Presbyterian Women, a book club, Bible study, and a support group for widows. Men's and women's breakfasts are held each Wednesday. There is a single service each Sunday.
Wickenburg, about 50 miles northwest of downtown Phoenix, sits on US Route 60, which was the principal road connecting Phoenix with Los Angeles before the coming of the interstate highway system. Even today, persons going from Phoenix to Las Vegas take Route 60 to Wickenburg and then turn off onto Route 93 for the rest of the trip. During the 19th century Wickenburg boomed as a gold mining town, and many of downtown's original structures survive today, giving it a Wild West ambience. A local curiosity is Jail Tree, to which lawbreakers were chained in lieu of being accommodated in a comfortable indoor cell. Today Wickenburg's economic well-being rests primarily on the tourist trade. First Presbyterian Church is located on North Adams Street just off Route 60 (Wickenburg Way), a well-scrubbed but decidedly plebeian residential area.
The Revd Jonathan Evans, pastor, gave the greeting, led most of the prayers, and preached. He was resplendent in green shirt, orange tie and black slacks. Verne Crissman oversaw the prayers and concerns segment. Hank Brubaker read the scripture passages. Marcus Knight was leader of the praise band.
What was the name of the service?Worship Service
How full was the building?
I counted room for about 250 and it was about three-quarters full - all elderly folk. Most people sat on the left side; the right was more sparsely populated.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady at the door smiled, said hello, and directed me to a table where the order of service had been stacked. Inside, two gentlemen (they may have been elders) were working the room, greeting everyone. They stopped at my pew and shook my hand. During the service there was no meet-and-greet or exchange of peace.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes - padded wooden pew.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of greeting, hugging, kissing, etc. A minute or so before service time, the church bell was rung and the pianist played some tinkly bits. The order of service announced a silent meditation during which most of the people already seated fell silent, but loud conversations continued out on the porch.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome this morning. Glad you're here."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Celebration Hymnal was in the pews, along with The Holy Bible, New International Version. We used the hymnal only for one traditional hymn, "O For a Thousand Tongues." Words to the modern worship songs were projected onto a screen. A service leaflet included all the prayers and responses.
What musical instruments were played?
White baby grand piano, acoustic guitar.
Did anything distract you?
It was rather distracting to hear a congregation full of old people sing modern worship songs as vigorously as they did.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It started out with a greeting, announcements, and (thankfully) only two worship songs. There followed the joys and concerns segment, where people got up and expressed thanks for a variety of things or asked prayer for other things. There was a reception of two new members into the congregation. The rest of the service was rather heavy on prayer (nothing wrong with that). We used the debts/debtors language in the Lord's Prayer, and in the Apostles' Creed we said we believed in the holy Christian church. Everything had an air of informality about it, but the congregation were clearly into it. These people enjoy worshipping together.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Pastor Evans basically read the sermon notes that had been included in the order of service, stopping every now and then to ad lib some extra material. Actually, that saved me the trouble of having to take notes – all I had to do was underline a phrase or two and make one or two notations. The pastor seemed relaxed and conversational, and established good rapport with the congregation. I was distracted by a slight speech impediment that caused him to slur his "s" sounds.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The pastor's topic was "Why are we here?" The question has two parts: why are we here on earth, and why are we here in church today? Both parts have the same answer: to worship. Worship is the central characteristic of heaven, and we exist on earth to learn to worship and to put worship into practice. Worship is not limited to a single hour each Sunday - it starts on Monday morning and should continue all week long in the daily routine of living. Worship has nothing to do with what pleases us - it's all about what we can bring to God. Church is not a performance, and the congregation is not an audience. Church is all about being in the presence of God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Even though modern worship music is not to my liking, I have to admire this congregation, elderly as they are, for being so thoroughly into it.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Two remarks were made that had political overtones. I thought I had gauged the political sensibilities of the congregation from the first remark, but then the second remark seemed just the opposite of the first and took me by surprise. The first was: "The world is pretty scary out there - even our kids think it's the end of the world." The second was: "Thank you, God, for listening to the cry of our nation." These and one other political event, which I'll mention later, completely put me off whatever good feelings I may have been having up until then.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The service leaflet announced a benediction and parting music but I didn't hear any benediction given. The parting music was a song the congregation must sing often, although I was unfamiliar with it. After that, everyone started visiting again, but no one paid me any attention. I went up to inspect the piano, as I wasn't sure whether it was an acoustic piano or a digital piano in a baby grand case. It turned out to be acoustic. I remarked to the musicians that it seemed to be in perfect tune, and one of them retorted (rather snippily, I thought)," Are you a piano tuner?"
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Folding doors were opened revealing the parish hall, where an assortment of crackers and cheese, veggies and dip, stuffed dates, celery and cream cheese, and a cake in honor of the two new members had been set out. I helped myself to coffee, which was hot but weak and served in styrofoam cups. There was also some kind of juice available. People sat around at tables visiting, but again no one paid any attention to me. I took my coffee and cake out to the courtyard and sat down on a bench, where one or two people did come up to me. One gentleman said, "Welcome to our church - or is it your church?" I answered that I was just visiting, but that I had noted that there seemed to be no young people or families in the congregation. He told me that they used to have a youth pastor, but that he left and started his own church, taking all the young people with him.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – I don't live in Wickenburg and I would not drive up here each Sunday just to go to church. If I lived here, I would seek out a church whose young people hadn't all upped and left.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Sort of, I guess.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
As I was driving out of town on my way home, I spotted a billboard with a particularly ugly political message on it. Someone has paid an awful lot of money to show the world how hateful and bitter they are, I thought. This was the other political event I alluded to above, and I'm afraid it soured my mood for the rest of the way home.