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1845: Christ Presbyterian, Goodyear, Arizona, USA
Christ Presbyterian, Goodyear, Arizona, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Christ Presbyterian, Goodyear, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Presbyterian Church (USA), Presbytery of the Grand Canyon.
The building: A plain modern version of your typical church structure, in light brown stone, with a huge parking lot out back. The interior is square, with the furniture placed at a 45 degree angle. A table held communion elements. Behind the table were a lectern and chairs for the choir; a grand piano was off to the left.
The church: They have a strong commitment to youth, with several ministries for children and young people. Their music program features youth, adult and handbell choirs. There are two worship services each Sunday, plus a sojourners’ class, church school, teen Bible study and Hispanic ministry.
The neighborhood: The city of Goodyear, in the southwest corner of the Phoenix metropolitan area, owes its existence to the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, which in the early 20th century selected the area for a 16,000-acre plantation to grow cotton for use in automobile and airplane tires. In the 1940s the company’s aircraft division built a major factory in Goodyear that over a 20 year period turned out hundreds of dirigibles, or blimps, primarily for military use. But the Goodyear blimp is no longer made here, the factory having been sold to the aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, which today produces military radar, reconnaissance and intelligence systems in its Goodyear facility. Phoenix’s western suburbs have long played poor country cousin to the more fashionable East Valley (Scottsdale et al.), but Goodyear is decidedly on the rise. The old cotton fields host the newly opened spring training camp for the Cleveland Indians baseball team, and housing and commercial development are rampant. Christ Presbyterian Church is located at the western edge of Goodyear in a residential and farming area.
The cast: The Revd Robert Simmons, pastor. Robert Wilson, minister of music, directed the choir. Mr Paul Voia-Tipei presided at the piano.
The date & time: Sunday, November 1, 2009, 9.15am.

What was the name of the service?
Worship Service.

How full was the building?
I counted about 350 chairs. It was a full house. The congregation were mostly middle aged or older. I understand that the later service is more family-oriented.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman at the door shook my hand and said "Welcome." A lady smiled and said "Good morning" as she handed me the service leaflet. After I was seated, an usher came over and asked if I was a first time visitor. He handed me a welcome packet consisting of a mug, a brochure describing the church, a CD (I did not examine its contents) and some mint candies.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, consisting of individual upholstered chairs.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of talking and visiting. The service leaflet stated, "When the musical prelude begins, please quiet your hearts and prepare for worship." Well, their hearts may have been quiet, but their mouths certainly weren’t! Everyone talked over the medley of hymns and spirituals that Mr Voia-Tipei was playing.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. I greet you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." This by Pastor Simmons, who wore a white Geneva gown and white stole.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Service leaflet. The Holy Bible, New International Version, was in a rack below each chair.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano. There was also a choir of 20 men and women vested in purple robes.

Did anything distract you?
The choir sang energetically but not with any degree of virtuosity. Had they gotten any more mileage out of their "R" sounds in words like "Lord" and "glory," the neighborhood dogs would have started growling. I’ll have more to say about the music in a moment.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
More of a hymn sandwich than a structured liturgy, although the basic elements were there. Mr Voia-Tipei played the piano with a jaunty, jazzy style that had people, well, not exactly waving their arms and clapping, but definitely swaying and toe-tapping. Communion was done pew-style, with the pastor pronouncing the words of institution and the elders then giving everyone a tiny cube of bread and a little plastic cup of grape juice. When communion was done, the elders left church to carry communion to the homebound.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Pastor Simmons spoke directly to each of us with a sincere tone. He had notes on the lectern but appeared barely to glance at them. No sooner had he started his sermon than a cell phone went off; he worked that event very smoothly into what he was saying at the time, to much laughter from the congregation.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was part of a series on the nine traits of a Christ-like life (Galatians 5:22-23). The pastor spoke today about the virtue of gentleness. Many surveys have noted a growing tendency in our culture toward nastiness, a lack of civility. Some blame vicious political campaigns, some blame rock music, some blame talk radio, some blame cell phones going off – oh, no! (Laughter). But almost no one blames themselves. When St Paul spoke of gentleness, he used a Greek word that refers to wild animals being tamed so as to be useful. We come wild into this world, tainted by sin, of no use to God. But Christ tames us and makes us useful. To be gentle is to be humble, to recognize one’s weaknesses and strengths, to submit to the will of God – to be tamed. As Christians we must champion the truth in a world that prefers to ignore it – but gently, with civility.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I thought that the pianist, Mr Voia-Tipei, made the whole service! His playing was especially masterful during the offertory and again at communion, when he would begin a quiet medley of spiritual numbers and gradually bring it to a rousing toe-tapping climax. His take on “Amazing Grace” seemed almost as if he were channeling Franz Liszt. And we sang the Malotte setting of the Lord’s Prayer, which many think hackneyed and trite but which never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But the vocal selections, in my opinion, canceled out much of what Mr Voia-Tipei was able to accomplish. In lieu of a choral anthem, one elderly gentleman sang a solo in a way that seemed as if he were afraid his teeth wouldn’t stay in. And no hymnals were provided – the words to the congregational hymns were projected onto a screen, but no musical notation was available and many of the tunes were not familiar.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The couple sitting in front of me shook my hand and said they were glad I had come. I went up to thank Mr Voia-Tipei for his excellent contribution. As I was leaving, a lady noticed my welcome packet and asked me if I would be joining the congregation. I said I was just visiting, and she replied that I was most welcome, even if only for one time.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Surprisingly, there was none.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I live in one of the northwest suburbs of Phoenix and it would be quite a drive for me to motor down to Goodyear every Sunday. I also prefer a more structured liturgy rather than a hymn sandwich, and I would look for a greater degree of professionalism in the music program. I can’t, however, fault this congregation for their enthusiasm and their clear commitment to worship.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Everyone seemed friendly and caring, and genuinely interested in making visitors feel welcome.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The masterful pianistic artistry of Mr Paul Voia-Tipei.
 
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