Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: Harvest Church
Location: Glendale, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 26 May 2019, 9:00am
A low, flat, unremarkable structure. One enters a spacious lobby furnished with tables and sofas and containing a coffee bar. Off the lobby are found the auditorium plus alcoves labeled Restrooms, Information Center, Classrooms and Coffee Shop (where they charge for coffee, although it’s free from the coffee bar in the lobby). The auditorium itself is large, with gray walls, brown carpeting, and dim blue/purple lighting. A large stage holds a drum kit enclosed in the obligatory Plexiglas shielding, several amplifier/speaker sets, and a digital piano. A large wide projection screen backs the stage, and two smaller screens flank either side. The auditorium completely lacks religious symbols save for a cross at the front of either side wall.
They sponsor several ministries, including ‘Kidventure Academy,’ fundraising drives, a seniors group, men’s ministry and food pantry. Others are listed on their website. There is a Saturday evening service plus two Sunday morning services.
They are located on Northern Avenue near 83rd Avenue in this western suburb of Phoenix. The area consists primarily of farmland – the church is aptly named, I thought.
One of the pastors, dressed in an untucked sport shirt and jeans, led the service and preached.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Worship.
How full was the building?
It’s a large room; I couldn’t count the chairs. It was about half full at the start of the service and about two-thirds full after the musical portion had concluded. A mix of all ages, from one foot out of the cradle to one foot in the grave.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A greeter at the door shook my hand and said ‘Good morning.’ A lady gave me an announcement sheet, and another gentleman pointed to a rack where sermon notes had been set out.
Was your pew comfortable?
Metal chairs upholstered in purple – they were OK.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People sat around visiting in the lobby. I helped myself to some coffee and cookies (‘Two snacks per person, please,’ a sign read) from the coffee bar. Inside the auditorium, people were likewise greeting friends and visiting amongst themselves. Rock music was playing over the PA system. Five minutes before service time, a countdown clock was displayed on screen.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Good morning, Harvest Church!’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
What musical instruments were played?
Digital piano, several guitars, drums.
Did anything distract you?
The principal distraction was the wide array of ‘eye candy’ out in the lobby – several fine looking young gentlemen, including one in a black leather jacket, untucked shirt with undershirt protruding from below, and fashionably ripped jeans.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Both happy and clappy. It followed the standard megachurch format of praise music, prayer and announcements, sermon and altar call. The music was the rock variety but not as ‘hard rock’ as would have driven me out to the lobby during it. I couldn’t hear the guitars – I mostly heard only the keyboard and especially the drums: boom, boom, BOOM! I was reminded of dear Emily Dickinson’s ‘I felt a Funeral in my Brain:’ ‘And when they all were seated,/ A Service, like a Drum -/ Kept beating - beating - till I thought/ My mind was going numb.’ All during the music, and all during the pastor’s sermon, people kept calling out ‘Hallelujah!’ ‘Amen!’ and the like. Each musical number was applauded loudly.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 — I thought at first that I would be able to rate the pastor higher, as he started off speaking well and clearly, but he quickly went downhill into shouting most of his sermon. And I thought that as he went on, his points were getting more and more nebulous and less and less practical.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was Mark 5:21-34 (Jesus heals the woman who touched his garment). We all have personal space that differs from culture to culture, and we know when that personal space has been invaded and when we have been ‘touched.’ Many in the crowd must have been touching Jesus, both deliberately and inadvertently, and yet he knew that the woman suffering from bleeding had touched him in a special way. There are many things that touch Jesus: poverty (but God provides); sickness (but hope leads to healing); suffering (but we can handle it if the end is in sight). The secret of the woman’s touch was faith. Faith moves the heart of God. Jesus wants to touch us, to make us whole. We must not give up and not give in – it’s the devil that tells us things are hopeless. We must reach out in faith. (And here the pastor issued an altar call). Which of you would like to reach out to Jesus – please come forward (and about seven-eights of the congregation did). The Lord told me to say (the pastor said) that you’ve suffered enough, that he wants to touch you. Reach out and touch him!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Aside from the eye candy? The only heavenly thing I noted was that as part of his sermon, the pastor read off a catalog of addictions from which we suffer: poverty, disease, pornography, marital troubles … plus … digital devices! Yes! My thought precisely!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, I don’t like to be shouted at. And it’s all well and good to say that we should wait patiently with hope through our suffering, but hope runs thin in the wake of famine, starvation, natural disasters, involuntary servitude, refugees seeking asylum – these and other modern day afflictions that all the shouting from every pulpit in every church won’t relieve.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The altar call was my signal to close my notebook and high-tail it out of there. I had to use the facilities anyway, and when I was done I noticed that others were beginning to leave too, so I hadn’t missed much.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None afterwards, but the pre-service coffee was hot and strong but not particularly tasty – I didn’t finish the cup I had poured for myself. And I thought the cookies were day-old at best.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – Nope, not for me.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I really can’t say it did.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
‘I felt a Funeral in my Brain …’