St Mary's, Phoenix, AZ (Exterior)

St Mary's, Phoenix, Arizona, USA.


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Mary's
Location: Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
Date of visit: Friday, 6 April 2012, 7:00pm

The building

A wide, flat cinderblock building. The inside is plain and stark but tasteful. Behind the altar hung a black drape against which was a large crucifix also draped in black, flanked by two candles. Stations of the cross made to look like India ink drawings lined the walls. I'll have more to say about these in a moment.

The church

St Mary's is Phoenix's Anglo-Catholic parish par excellence, with all the ceremony, vestments, incense, tat, and pew calisthenics that go with the title. From their website: "We welcome and include everyone, especially those who may have felt unwelcome in other churches." Their website also has the good vision to link to the Ship of Fools.

The neighborhood

St Mary's is located on 39th Avenue at Maryland Avenue, a poor but clean-scrubbed residential neighborhood. There is a school next door to the church, and another school across Maryland Avenue.

The cast

The Revd R. Craig Bustrin, vicar, was the officiant. He was assisted by two deacons who were not named. Neither were the verger, two acolytes, another lady whose role was not clear at first, nor the lector named. Matthew Scott served as cantor, and Jeffrey Shy played the organ. The officiant and deacons were vested in albs and purple chasuble or dalmatics, respectively; all others wore black cassocks save for the organist, who wore his blue choir cassock; the cantor, who wore a black shirt and black slacks; and the lector, who wore street clothes.

What was the name of the service?

Solemn Good Friday Liturgy.

How full was the building?

I counted room for 200. There were 20 present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I arrived about an hour early, misjudging how long it would take me to have dinner beforehand. Father Bustrin saw me pulling into the parking lot and gave me a quizzical look. Out my car window, I asked him if the service started at 7.00 and added that I knew I was early. He invited me into the parish house where, he said, there were comfortable sofas I could wait on. About one-half hour before the service time, I walked over to the church. There were several people waiting on the porch, but no one spoke to me. As I entered, a gentleman said, "Here's a bulletin for you."

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. Plain wooden pews with fold-down kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was quite a bit of talking out on the porch, but once people got inside they were quiet for the most part. Three little old ladies were sitting quietly together in a pew until a gentleman came up to them and engaged them in a rather lengthy conversation. That set them abuzz and they didn't calm down until the service was about to start.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

The verger knocked on the floor three times with his wand and then led the altar party in: verger, two acolytes, the aforementioned lady whose role was not clear, the two deacons, and the officiant. The clergy prostrated themselves for several minutes on the floor before the altar. When they arose, the officiant intoned: "Blessed be our God" to which the response was: "For ever and ever, Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A service leaflet contained everything we needed.

What musical instruments were played?

I was surprised to hear the organ (a small tracker instrument at the back of the church) accompany the reproaches, especially after reading a lengthy insert to the bulletin explaining why the organ, on this day, "offers its breathless silence" in the "enveloping darkness." It did, however, remain silent otherwise.

Did anything distract you?

The India ink-style stations of the cross, while striking, were not in numerical order! Indeed, they appeared to have been put up randomly. I wondered why.

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

It was the standard Good Friday liturgy, chanted almost entirely to the prescribed Gregorian chant settings. The reproaches were chanted in Greek and English. We were given a variety of suggestions for how to venerate the cross when the time came to do so: by approaching either shod or barefoot, genuflecting, and then kissing it while kneeling; by bowing deeply before it; or by remaining prayerfully seated. The Blessed Sacrament was brought in from the altar of repose to the sound of the crotalus shaken, I might add, by the lady whose role was previously unclear. "Ah," I thought, "now I can call her the Crotalus Lady." After communion, the remaining hosts were consumed by the altar party and the empty ciborium was left tipped over on its side on top of the corporal.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

4 minutes.

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

8 – Father Bustrin's sermon was succinct and to the point, but I thought he spoke a little too softly to be clearly understood.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

His text was Jesus' remark to Pilate: "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above" (John 19:11). Pilate thought that he held the power of the cross over Jesus, but Jesus knew otherwise. In the hands of humans, the cross stands for death, tragedy, questioning of faith. But in the hands of God, it stands for reconciliation, triumph, belief. The cross represents what God believes about us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The chanting was lovely, especially the Christus factus est, the reproaches, and the passion complete with weeping tone. For the chanting of the passion, the cantor (a baritone) took the narrator part, the officiant (a bass) Jesus, and one of the deacons (a tenor) Pilate and the turba. I would have preferred that Pilate be done by one deacon and the turba either by the other or by a choir.

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

I'm listing these here only because they surprised me in what was otherwise a near faultless liturgical celebration: candles in the entrance procession, the use of organ, the organist in blue choir robe, the verger (not the officiant or deacon) unveiling the cross during the reproaches, the Crotalus Lady wearing blue and white striped tennis shoes beneath her cassock (otherwise the haberdashery was impeccable).

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

Everyone left in silence, as we had been instructed to do. Father Bustrin gave everyone a hug on their way out. As I hugged him, I handed him my Mystery Worship calling card (there had been no collection), remarking that since their website linked to the Ship of Fools, I would give him this in person.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none, but the service had lasted two hours and it was late. As I stepped out into the parking lot, I was thrilled to see a bright full moon bathing everything in its luminescence.

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

8 – Its too far for me to travel every Sunday, but clearly they do things right here. I'll be back on another occasion.

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


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

The stations of the cross apparently in random order.

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