An oblong modern structure. One enters a lobby off which opens a long hallway with offices and classrooms. The worship area is at the end of the hall. It is rectangular, with chairs facing a platform set up against one of the longer walls; black curtains line the wall behind the platform. The most prominent feature in the room was the drum set.
Their name derives from John 14:6 (I am the way, the truth, and the life). They have ministries for children, youth, women and men, and are planning a mission trip to Haiti. They sponsor a chapter of Royal Rangers, whose purpose is (quoting from their website) "to provide Christlike character formation and servant leadership development for boys and young men." They also run a school, the FourteenSix Christian Academy, which provides three days of classroom instruction combined with two days of home schooling. They have two services each Sunday.
Surprise, the northwestern-most suburb of Phoenix, was founded in 1936 by one Flora Mae Statler, who used the land to build cheap housing for agricultural workers. "I'll be surprised if it ever amounts to much," she is rumored to have said - hence its name. The city experienced rapid growth in the latter part of the 20th century, and today is home to upper-middle-class families as well as retirees. The Surprise Stadium is spring training headquarters for the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers baseball teams. The church is located on Mondell Road just north of Bell Road and east of the Loop 303 Freeway in a primarily residential district.
Patrick Marks, lead pastor, was the preacher. Dennis Muller, music pastor, led the worship band, gave the scripture reading, and led one of the prayers. Someone else who referred to himself as Jim pronounced the words of institution over the communion elements.
What was the name of the service?Worship Service.
How full was the building?
The worship area holds about 100 people. Less than half a dozen were present up until the start of the service, at which point about 10 people came in. By the end of the worship period about 40 or so had trickled in. Their website proclaims that there is no children's program at the 9.00 service, so I did not expect to see children in the congregation, but there were several.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As soon as I entered the lobby, a gentleman shook my hand and offered to show me around. He tried to interest me in a book the pastor had written entitled Someone Is Making a Monkey Out Of You, copies of which were stacked on a table, but I said maybe later. (Uh-oh, what have I gotten myself into? I thought.) He then showed me where the coffee room and worship area were. As I was walking down the corridor toward the worship area, several people standing in the corridor said hello and welcome.
Was your pew comfortable?
Standard conference room style chair - comfortable enough.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Almost no one was in the room except for two mothers nursing small children and a couple of men puttering around with the lights and sound equipment. No one paid any attention to me. Then an older woman, about my age, came up to me and said," May 17 - that's the day I was married. My husband has been gone a long time and I haven't thought of it in years. But I still have the best part of it - my son!" She sat down in the row in front of me (without her son, I should add - pity, as she had sparked my curiosity) and we chatted a bit.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Well, good morning! Ready to worship?"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
What musical instruments were played?
Digital keyboard, two electric guitars, bass guitar, drums. There was a female vocalist, and the keyboardist and lead guitarist also sang.
Did anything distract you?
I spent a good deal of time scouting out the exits in case the urge to run screaming from the place overwhelmed me.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The music was of the lite rock variety, with lyrics consisting of vapid couplets written on a third grade reading level: "Happy day, happy day, you have washed my sin away;" "Without you I fall apart; you're the one who guides my heart" and the like. There was some hand raising. Communion took place during the music worship period - more about that in a moment. The music pastor gave the scripture reading from a sheet of paper, not from a Bible, although we were asked to stand for the reading. Everyone was dressed informally in sport shirts (or blouses for the women) and blue jeans.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – It's hard to assign a score. Pastor Marks had a very natural, relaxed style, and knew how to pepper his remarks with humor at appropriate times. However, he had a tendency to raise his voice to the point where I was starting to get a headache toward the end. His style bordered on the Pentecostal: "Who remembers what Jacob did next? Everyone say, 'God loves me.'" And the few good points he made could have been better made in a fraction of the time - he tended to ramble all over the place.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was Genesis 46 (the whole chapter, including the genealogy (Muppim, Huppim and Ard, and all the rest - why did I think of Wynken, Blynken and Nod?) God sends Jacob to Egypt. Jacob's journey to Egypt was more than just a family reunion - it was a command from God that Jacob (like us) should take very seriously. We must not fear to do what God tells us to do. God will direct our path, but we must take the first step. What God wants may not always make sense, and it is hard sometimes to know what to do. But the Holy Spirit guides the Christian. God has given us wisdom, experience and logic to know how to separate his will from temptation. Jacob was a man of faith - are we? God knows how hard it can be for us, and he cares. He has promised to reward us if we do his will, and he never goes back on his word.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Communion during the music worship took me by surprise. The music pastor announced that cups would be passed out double-stacked: one containing a morsel of bread and the other some grape juice. He said that as the music continued, we should hold onto them and think about what they were. (Well, they're wee cuppies of bread and juice, aren't they? I thought, as no words of institution had been spoken.) But after they had been passed out, the gentleman named Jim stepped forward and spoke for a minute or two about Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. He then pronounced the words of institution concerning the bread, followed by: "And so we eat." Next he spoke the words concerning the wine, and added: "And so we drink." I thought that adding "And so we eat; And so we drink" lent a special touch to the remembrance of the Lord's Supper.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But what's this obsession with creationism? Not only did the gentleman who greeted me at the door try to push the pastor's book on me, but the music pastor managed to work a mention of creationism into the prayer and again pitched the pastor's book. There was also a tract on the back of every chair ranting against the evils of evolution. Hey, the pastor said in his sermon that God has given us wisdom and logic. Surely we can use that wisdom and logic to conclude that nothing in the theory of evolution precludes God's having arranged things that way. Besides, no one has ever said that we come from monkeys, but rather that monkeys and we have both evolved from earlier forms.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The pastor ended his sermon by segueing into the collection ("God wants us to take the first step. And what is that step? Give!") I put my Mystery Worship Calling Card in the basket and then slipped out the door, as I noticed that others were leaving too.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I should have helped myself to coffee and donuts before the service, as I had a headache and wasn't in the mood to stick around looking lost, or found either, for that matter. A gentleman standing at the door shook my hand as I left, and another called out, "Have a good week!" as I walked to the Amandamobile.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – Nope. I can only imagine what students at the FourteenSix Christian Academy, and the boys who attend Royal Rangers meetings, are being taught about the origin of species and what constitutes good music. But as for me, I thank God that he has given me the wisdom and intellect to know for myself.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No. When I enter a church, I expect my attention to be drawn to the cross, not to the drum set.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The woman who remembered that today was her wedding anniversary.