Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
Streams Lutheran, Surprise, Arizona, USA.
Lutheran Church in America, Grand
They meet at the Rosefield Charter School, a rather plain
looking building in back of a largely vacant strip mall. The
meeting room is a typical all-purpose school hall. Folding
screens had been arrayed to conceal what I suppose were assorted
school things. A long table holding the communion elements
had been covered with a white tablecloth. Behind the table
was a large wooden cross.
They offer Christian education classes for all ages, ranging
from toddlers through senior citizens, including vacation
Bible school. They sponsor several groups, including a career
group that provides counseling for persons who are unemployed,
seeking a career change, or going through stressful times
at work; MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), offering support
for mothers of young children; and prayer groups. There are
two services each Sunday, one traditional and one contemporary.
The eucharist is celebrated at each worship service.
Rosefield Charter School sits on the corner of Bullard and
Cactus Roads in Surprise, the northwesternmost suburb of Phoenix.
When the area was first developed about 60 years ago, people
said that if such a remote place ever became a city it would
be a surprise. Today, the city of Surprise boasts a population
of over 100,000 and features several middle class housing
communities and retirement villages. There is also a relatively
large amount of undeveloped land that is quickly being given
over to new housing and shopping complexes. Surprise is spring
training home to the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals
baseball teams, and several new hotels and apartment complexes
have sprung up around the stadium.
The Revd Kevin E. Ruffcorn, pastor. The pastor was dressed
in a flowered sports shirt and slacks. A gentleman identified
only as "Mike" gave the children’s sermon. Gail Born played
several handbell selections.
The date & time:
Sunday, July 10, 2011, 8.30am.
What was the name of
Spirited Traditional Service.
How full was the building?
I counted about 65 chairs; about 30 of them were occupied.
Mostly middle-aged to elderly women; some men; some younger
couples. Four young children, all little girls.
Did anyone welcome you
I was overwhelmed with welcome the moment I closed my car
door. Several people said hello, welcome, how are you this
morning, we’re so glad you came, etc. Inside, people wanted
to know if I lived in the area and how I had heard about the
Was your pew comfortable?
Typical conference-room meeting chairs; comfortable enough.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
The effusive welcome continued. People were visiting at the
back of the room. I was the only person sitting down until
about three or four minutes after the advertised starting
time, when others began to sit down. Recorded music was quietly
What were the exact
opening words of the service?
"Good morning. God’s spirit is with us."
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
Only a service leaflet. Readings, prayers and songs were projected
onto a screen.
What musical instruments
A pre-recorded soundtrack accompanied three women who sang
with thin, timid voices. The aforementioned Mrs Born played
several handbell solos. I’ll have more to say about the music
Did anything distract
I kept wondering what was concealed behind the folding screens.
Mrs Born looked a bit like Benjamin
Franklin in a cowgirl skirt and boots. I marveled at her dexterity
as she bent, stooped and reached for the handbells as if she
were a chorus of eight people.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Very loosely liturgical: welcome and announcements, exchange
of peace, confession and absolution, readings, singing, sermon,
communion and dismissal. Very informal, though – not taken
from the Lutheran Book of Worship so far as I could
tell. We took communion back to front, the people in the back
of the room being invited to go up first. We received a morsel
of bread broken off from a loaf, which we then dipped either
into a chalice of grape juice or wine as we preferred.
Exactly how long was
7 minutes (children’s sermon); 20 minutes (adults’ sermon).
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
6 For "Mike" and his children’s sermon; 5 for Pastor
Kevin. "Mike" seemed to engage the children well but he also
seemed overly talkative. Pastor Kevin seemed to wander a bit
but he eventually managed to bring his separate threads more
or less to a focus.
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
(Children’s) God has already forgiven us; there’s no need
to ask his forgiveness. We need only to thank him. God knows
all our needs and all our troubles and he is always with us.
(Adults’) Pastor Kevin’s text was Romans 8:1-11 (Christ has
set us free into the realm of the Spirit). We need not struggle
to earn God’s love; it is there for the taking. But even though
we are free, we seem bound up in worldly cares. We have been
imprisoned so long in a broken world that it’s hard to believe
that we are free. But should we just “turn the world off”?
No. We should instead give our cares to Jesus. God is with
us; we should focus on his presence, not on our weaknesses.
Worship and prayer can help us change our focus from the world
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The welcome I received was one of the best I’ve ever gotten
anywhere. And in the Apostles’ Creed we said we believe in
the "holy catholic church", not the "holy Christian church"
or some other such substitution we sometimes hear in non-Roman
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
The music: "contemporary lite" drivel. Not at all what I would
call traditional. Where was Bach? Where was Martin Luther?
Instead we had the likes of Tim Hughes’ "Here I am to worship"
– a song that makes me gag whenever I hear it. To top it all
off, one of the singers had a habit of beating her breast
as she sang. And the pre-recorded soundtrack didn’t always
match the verses that were projected.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
Pastor Kevin made the Sign of the Cross over us as he read
the final blessing, and then invited us for refreshments.
After singing something called "Majesty", which reminded me
of the theme song from the TV show Dynasty, several
people again came up to me and welcomed me, thanked me for
coming, invited me to stay for refreshments, and hoped I’d
come back. "I’ll be looking for you to come back," one woman
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
Coffee, lemonade and cookies were set out in the back of the
room, but I wasn’t in the mood to stay.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
3 The woman who said she’d be looking for me to come
back may look in vain, for indeed what would there be to come
back to? Yes, the welcome was wonderful! Yes, they seem to
be into some interesting ministries. But this is not what
I would call traditional worship, and Miss Amanda is just
an old-fashioned girl at heart.
Did the service make
you feel glad to be a Christian?
I really didn’t feel one way or the other.
What one thing will
you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The overwhelming welcome I received. And the Dynasty
theme will be running through my head all day.