Westminster Presbyterian, Phoenix, AZ (Exterior)

Westminster Presbyterian, Phoenix, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Westminster Presbyterian
Location: Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Thursday, 24 March 2016, 7:00pm

The building

An attractive modern barn-like building with parish hall off to the right. The setting sun made a tall copper panel on the facade glow beautifully; unfortunately my camera overexposed it. Tonight's service actually was held in the parish hall, in a rectangular room with white brick walls and a stage at one end. Folding tables had been arranged in the center of the room in a rectangular pattern, so we could all sit around the tables and see each other. A loaf of bread, a carafe of grape juice, and two glass chalice-shaped cups were on a white cloth on the table in front of where the pastor was sitting.

The church

The congregation was organized in 1951 and held its first services in a laundromat! They later moved to a local school, and took occupancy of their present building in 1965. They have a men's group, women's group, Sunday school and adult classes, a Prayer Warriors group (I hope they pray for peace!) and a game group. There is one worship service each Sunday.

The neighborhood

They are located on 19th Avenue just south of Camelback Road, where Phoenix's light rail line turns off 19th and onto Camelback. It's a decidedly plebeian neighborhood featuring apartment complexes specializing in tenants who would prefer not to sign long-term leases.

The cast

The Revd Gale Watkins, pastor. An unidentified lady played the piano. The pastor was wearing a dress shirt and tie and dress slacks, but no jacket.

What was the name of the service?

Washing of the Feet and Lords Supper.

How full was the building?

There were 23 of us seated around the tables. I learned later that the parish is short on families and children but that they are "working on it."

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A lady said, "Hello. Would you like to come in?" Inside, just about everybody shook my hand and exchanged names.

Was your pew comfortable?

Folding metal chair - you decide.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Lots of visiting and greeting. It was clear that everyone knew everyone else. They were all very friendly toward me.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Jesus said: I give you a new commandment."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A handout with the order of service, readings, prayers and hymns (words only).

What musical instruments were played?

An upright piano, in good enough tune and played very competently by a lady who knows how to lead congregational singing. Before the scripture readings, eight people got up and formed a choir next to the piano in order to sing an anthem.

Did anything distract you?

I can honestly say that there were no distractions during the service itself. But afterwards, as people chatted with me, I told one gentleman that I was a retired Latin teacher and he began to speak Latin to me (that I followed for the most part, but not completely, I confess).

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

It pretty much followed an abbreviated standard Western eucharistic order. The hymns were all very traditional: "An upper room did our Lord prepare", "Go to dark Gethsemane", "O sacred head", "When I survey the wondrous cross", etc. Everyone sang with gusto to the excellent piano accompaniment. There was a psalm, read antiphonally, and gospel reading. The eucharistic prayer used language similar to that used by many other denominations. At communion we passed around the broken loaf of bread and cups of grape juice, tearing off a piece of bread and dipping it in the juice. As we passed the elements to our neighbor, we said, "The body of Christ, given for you" and "The blood of Christ, shed for you." No foot washing, despite the name of the service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

5 minutes.

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

10 – The Revd Gale Watkins packed quite a wallop into those five minutes. He spoke quietly and conversationally, as befitting our setting.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Each year we commemorate Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, and it is easy to lose the element of surprise that the disciples must have felt. Why did Jesus wash their feet? Three reasons: (1) they were dirty; (2) to set an example that they should look out for one another's needs; and (3) as a sign of the deeper cleansing of the redemptive act of the Cross. Jesus gave us a new commandment - and commandments must be obeyed - that we should love. By our love, people will know that we belong to Jesus. It is a new way to live. May we be that kind of people.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Honestly, the whole service was heavenly.

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

My only regret was that the music to the hymns was not supplied. I knew most of them, but not all.

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

Again, just about everyone shook my hand and thanked me for coming. I had a good chat with the pastor about the liturgy, and with one of the parishioners about the makeup of the congregation. And then there was the gentleman who spoke Latin (see above).

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none.

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

10 – Everyone was friendly and welcoming without being overbearing, and the service was dignified and traditional. I don't live in this neighborhood, though.

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

Yes, very much so! I was glad I had come.

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

How friendly everyone was.

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