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1114: Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
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Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: Located at 100 West Roosevelt Street in a residential area near downtown Phoenix, the cathedral is a stone building, painted sandy brown, in the Spanish mission style. The church and its ancillary buildings surround a sculpture garden that includes an outdoor pulpit and baptismal font. The interior was almost completely destroyed by fire in October 2002, but, thanks to a generous outpouring of community support (and well-written fire insurance), is now almost fully restored. The long, narrow nave features white walls, a red tile floor, and dark wood pews and ceiling. A small square altar sits at the front of the sanctuary, behind which are the organ console, a grand piano, and choir seating. A circular stained glass window at the rear of the sanctuary depicts the Holy Spirit. Other windows depict various religious themes, but are rather impressionistic in design and I couldn't quite figure out the subject matter.
The church: Trinity is especially known for its health ministries, including clinics, school programs, preventive screenings and counseling.
The neighborhood: Situated in America's hot desert southwest, the city of Phoenix was named after the mythological bird that immolated itself only to rise again from its ashes. Up until the mid 20th century, downtown Phoenix was the business and cultural center of the southwest (recall the opening scenes of Alfred Hitchcock's classic film Psycho, which was set in Phoenix). In the 1970s and 80s the downtown district suffered a steady decline from which now, in the 21st century, it is emerging reborn. The parallel between the myth of the phoenix and Trinity's struggle to rebuild after the fire has not gone unnoticed by the cathedral's media consultants.
The cast: The Rt Rev. Kirk Stevan Smith, Bishop of Arizona, delivered the sermon. The Very Rev. P. William Greeley, interim dean, was the officiant, assisted by the Rev. Canon William M. North, interim associate; the Venerable Veronica M. Ritson, archdeacon; and the Rev. John L. Mather, deacon.
What was the name of the service?
Liturgy and Holy Communion (Good Friday).

How full was the building?
The cathedral holds 300 and was half full. The congregation were predominantly young to middle-aged and very well dressed.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman at the door handed out leaflets and pieces of barbed wire in silence.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. There were no cushions but the pews were quite comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Somber silence in keeping with the mood of Good Friday. Some people smiled and nodded silently to each other, but there was no conversation.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be our God forever and ever. Amen." The choir sang an anthem as the clergy entered the sanctuary. The choir were vested in purple cassocks and white surplices with lace trim. The clergy wore only their black cassocks, except that Bishop Smith's cassock was dark charcoal and included a sash of the same color. The bishop did not wear his pectoral cross or any other trapping of office.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A service leaflet contained all the readings for the day.

What musical instruments were played?
None. The excellent 35-voice choir sang several anthems unaccompanied. There were no congregational hymns and no part of the service was chanted.

Did anything distract you?
A fly settled into the hairdo of the lady in front of me and busied itself exploring its inner depths. I'm afraid I paid more attention to it than to the bishop's sermon. There were a few other distractions that I'll mention in the part below about the hellish bits.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A very dignified low Good Friday liturgy. Scriptural readings were followed by the sermon, then the solemn collects, then the bringing of the Cross into the cathedral (Archdeacon Ritson carried in a full-sized Cross – barefoot!), and finally Holy Communion from the reserved Sacrament.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
16 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – Bishop Smith read his sermon from notes, which to me is not the same as preaching. He did speak clearly, though, and looked up from his notes as much as he could. He is a young, energetic man, and the congregation appeared to love their bishop.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The cross is a strange symbol. It has gone from being a torture device to a prettied-up decoration. How would we feel about placing an electric chair on the altar, or wearing little hangman's nooses on chains around our necks? Barbed wire today is similar to what the cross was in Roman times. (And here Bishop Smith asked us to press the piece of barbed wire that we had received at the door into our palms, and to see if it didn't hurt.) Modern life is full of pain. On Good Friday, Christians make two striking claims: that evil is real (as opposed to those who deem it an illusion that can be dispelled by happy thoughts), and that Christ overcame evil once and for all by dying, not just for his friends but for all mankind. That is what Christ meant when he said "It is finished."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Complemented by the cathedral's perfect acoustics, the choir was the best I have heard in a long time, inside or outside of church. The men sang especially well – a deep bass line and clear tenor voices. Although their offerings today were almost exclusively Renaissance polyphony in Latin, one of the members told me afterwards that they sing all styles and enjoy themselves while doing so.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
That said, the director had drilled into them a bit too well the importance of enunciating the "K" sound. Thus, all of their Christuses and consummatums sounded almost like chiffs in an organ pipe. One of the anthems was the Samuel Barber Agnus Dei, which got off to a rather shaky start but recovered nicely. The liturgy, though dignified, was a bit overdone in spots. For example, in the reading of St John's Passion, the gentleman who took the part of Pilate was overly dramatic.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone left in silence, but most reassembled in an adjoining hall for chatting up.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were no refreshments offered, but people stood about visiting in small groups. Bishop Smith breezed through, but didn't stop to chat. I told one of the choir members how much I had enjoyed the music, and she said she hoped I'd come back to worship often. Otherwise, although I tried to look lost but friendly, no one paid any attention to me.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I'd have to come back on a Sunday before I could judge. The quality of their music program would be a strong draw, but I get the impression that the cathedral is basically low church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Bishop Smith's sermon gave me something to think about – namely, what Christ truly meant when he said "It is finished."

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The exaggerated "K" sounds from the choir. I've certainly had this point drilled home by more than one director of choirs I've been a member of, but I think this choir took the direction just a tad too much to heart.
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