St John’s Lutheran, Glendale, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St John’s Lutheran
Location: Glendale, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 4 October 2020, 8:30am

The building

They were organized as a mission in 1956 and met at a local women’s club. The church building dates from 1962 and was expanded and remodeled in the years that followed. It’s a modern looking brick building with a tall thin obelisk out front. I didn't get a good view of the interior from the video feed, but it appears to be modern and tasteful.

The church

There are two on-line worship services each Sunday via Facebook and YouTube: an early traditional service and a later contemporary service. Judging from their calendar, they appear to be resuming a Saturday evening live outdoor service beginning next weekend. There are also on-line fellowship meetings and Bible study sessions conducted during the week. Earlier this year, the parish council approved a schedule, downloadable from their website, under which in-person gatherings could be resumed, in phases, depending on conditions. The phases range from Phase 0 – everyone (including clergy) staying at home; through Phase 5 – all restrictions lifted, with vigilance maintained re the need to re-escalate. At present they appear to be between Phase 2 and Phase 3 – services streamed on-line from the sanctuary, small gatherings permitted with precautions observed. The annual St Francis Day Blessing of the Pets took place yesterday evening in the courtyard in person – being pet-free, Miss Amanda did not attend. They share worship space with Emmanuel South Sudanese Christian Fellowship, and the newly elected leader of that congregation was introduced at today’s service.

The neighborhood

They are located on 51st Avenue just north of Glendale Avenue in this western suburb of Phoenix. Downtown Glendale is tiny (but the city mushrooms out for miles around) and features quaint antique shops, trendy boutiques, and some very good restaurants, including a German place with the improbable name of Haus Murphy.

The cast

The pastor, vested in alb and green stole over a black Roman clerical suit. He was assisted by a cantor, lector, technical crew, and others, all named in the service leaflet. The newly-elected leader of Emmanuel South Sudanese Christian Fellowship read the gospel and preached.

What was the name of the service?

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Traditional Service. I watched the live-stream via YouTube.

How full was the building?

The YouTube counter, at its highest point, showed that 16 were watching. I don’t know how many were watching via Facebook.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The pastor welcomed all first time worshippers, but of course he didn’t know I was watching.

Was your pew comfortable?

My desk chair suits me just fine.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I arranged all necessary materials on my PC and waited in silent expectation. The YouTube live-stream began a few minutes early, with announcements displayed as the organist played some twiddly bits.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good morning, and welcome in the name of Jesus Christ, Savior of the world.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A service leaflet in .PDF format was available for download. But all words of the service were displayed on screen along with the video feed, so it was not necessary to follow along on the download. The display was not always well synchronized with the feed, however. Hymns were taken from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, with words (but not the music) displayed on screen.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ to accompany the hymns, and one-fingered piano to accompany the chants. (Why not the organ?) The choir offered an anthem via pre-recorded virtual video, accompanied by what sounded like a piano but the audio quality was not good.

Did anything distract you?

The technical crew seemed to be doing an outstanding job, but unfortunately the pastor’s microphone was not reliable – it kept cutting out and in throughout the service.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

A straightforward traditional service following more or less the format we are accustomed to in the West. Mostly spoken, but the Kyrie, psalm, and the obligatory ‘This is the feast …’ (which I don’t like – don’t ask me why) were chanted. At the peace, we were encouraged to share the peace with someone via text message. Today’s service was not a communion service, although the pastor announced that next week’s in-person evening service will include the Lord’s Supper.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

5 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 — The leader of the Emmanuel South Sudanese Christian Fellowship speaks English reasonably well, but he cannot read it well at all, bless his soul. Had the gospel text not been displayed on screen, it would have been very hard to follow along. He seemed to be speaking extemporaneously about the text, not at all from prepared notes. Although it was not always easy to follow his train of thought, I do have to confess that in the end I found it interesting.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

His text was the gospel reading: Matthew 21:33-46 (the parable of the tenants). This is a fascinating parable. Many people at the time were questioning Jesus’ authority, just like the tenants in the parable questioned the landlord’s authority. The landlord is God the Father; his Son, of course, is Jesus, whom God sent to us. Many people today question the very existence of God and his Son. But we are caretakers of the world, not owners of it. God will reward those who believe, not those who reject him.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Despite some technical difficulties and the present circumstances under which we all suffer, this was a well done service. I really have to give this congregation credit for persevering in these very difficult times.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

But the Sudanese leader gave an awfully long-winded introduction, telling what appeared to be the story of his life. I would have been more interested in what he was saying if he had limited his talk to ‘Hello, thank you, glad to be here, you are invited to attend one of our services.’ And the pastor asked him several questions after he was done, which prolonged things even more.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

The service ended with a hymn and blessing. The YouTube feed ended with some final announcements being displayed.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was, of course, none. I had already broken fast, and it was too early for lunch.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

10 — St John’s is just around the corner from my apartment. Based on this service, I have a good feeling about them, and I fully intend to stop by next Saturday evening when they resume their in-person services outdoors ('Bring a cushion if you have a bony bottom,' the pastor advised).

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

How good I feel about the possibility of visiting in-person with cushion in hand (although Miss Amanda's bottom is far from bony, if truth be told).

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