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243: Christ Church of the Ascension, Paradise Valley, Arizona, USA
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Christ Church of the Ascension, Paradise Valley, Arizona
Mystery Worshipper: Lucy Locket.
The church: Christ Church of the Ascension, Paradise Valley, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church USA.
The building: Nouveau mission style, a rather bland and uninteresting whitewashed structure with a bland and uninteresting interior. Unfortunately, both the architecture and the dressings of the liturgical space scream 1970s. The sterility of the latter was slightly alleviated by the incorporation of American Indian symbols, but the overall effect was almost condescending, as if the mighty rich white people were patting themselves on the back for having thrown a bone to their red brothers and sisters. The metal framework at the entrance to the chancel was a sincere attempt to integrate a worthwhile feature by suggesting a rood screen, but sadly, it failed too.
The neighbourhood: Paradise Valley is a town attached to Phoenix, where all the rich people live. The church is in a rich neighborhood. Only a mile or two down the road is the famous Arizona Biltmore Spa, which is surrounded by the richest place of all, Biltmore Estates, which is home to celebrities including Alice Cooper, the original shock rocker.
The cast: The celebrant and preacher was Rev. William M. North, Jr., Associate Rector.
What was the name of the service?
The Holy Eucharist: Rite II.

How full was the building?
About a third full. I guess around 200 people were there.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes indeed. The church has a very effective gimmick for identifying visitors – the visitor cards in the pew racks have self-adhesive badges attached to them. The visitor fills in his name, tears off and applies the badge, and immediately sticks out like a sore thumb. It is pretty hard to ignore someone wearing a badge that says "Visitor".

Was your pew comfortable?
Standard, adequate pew cushion.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Considerable settling-in activity and whispering, but not to a disturbing degree.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Service leaflet, The Book of Common Prayer 1979, The Hymnal 1982.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
Alas, the accents of bright green paint on the dark wood altar and the creepy-lacey-curtain-thingey on the wall behind the altar (see photo) were most distracting to me.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a dignified and quite standard Rite II service.

Christ Church of the Ascension, Paradise Valley, Arizona

Exactly how long was the sermon?
16 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
He dealt head-on with a tough topic. I give him a 7.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The day's Epistle was Ephesians 5:21-33, which includes the "Wives, be subject to your husbands" passage that helped give St Paul his reputation in some circles as a misogynist. The sermon condemned the use of this passage to justify domestic violence in its various forms and went on to make two points. First, all divisions between people in the world are artificial, because all are the same before God. And second, the marriage relationship is a metaphor for our relationship with Jesus. God's love is shown in an ordinary relationship, one that offers humans a place to grow, to love, and to move beyond a focus on the self to freedom in service.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
For me, it was a pretty standard service with no special extras. The heavenly part was receiving the body and the blood of Christ.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I know I am beating a dead horse here, but the décor truly was awful.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I started up the aisle to exit, trying to look lost, but before I could really get that hangdog look going I was approached by a lovely woman who introduced herself, pulled me into conversation, and introduced me to everyone nearby and to the priest on the way out. She then ushered me to the Parish Hall, where she introduced me to several people and made sure that I had a cup of coffee and someone to talk to before she left my side. I had quite a jolly time chatting in the Parish Hall and stayed much longer than I intended.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Good. And the cookies were good, too.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – the people were marvelous, even if not very culturally and economically diverse. But... you guessed it... the building turned me off terribly. That demotes it from an 8 to a 5.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, in the same way Rite II always does.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The most warm welcome I have ever received in any church in my entire life.

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