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2399: St John the Baptist, Glendale, Arizona, USA
St John the Baptist, Glendale, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: St John the Baptist, Glendale, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Arizona.
The building: An attractive modern concrete building. Inside, one enters a large lobby area; glass doors lead into the sanctuary. There are plain glass windows behind the altar that look out onto a garden backed by a concrete wall Ė just as well, as the view across the road is decidedly unremarkable. The altar and sanctuary furnishings are of wrought iron. Sedilia are behind the altar; credenza, pulpit and choir seating are to the right. It seemed to me that the right was overused, at the expense of the left.
The church: They support a variety of ministries and social activities all described on their website. To mention only a few: they knit blankets that are blessed and donated to hospital patients, shut-ins, newly baptized babies, and any other persons who would benefit. They also recycle old cell phones and donate them to women and families in domestic violence shelters. There is an official parish historiographer who prepares scrapbooks of church bulletins, notices, photos, etc. There are two celebrations of holy eucharist each Sunday, and a morning and evening celebration on Wednesdays.
The neighborhood: The church is located at 41st Avenue and Union Hills Drive. Thirty years ago this area lay outside the northernmost reaches of the Phoenix metropolitan area, but today it is comfortably within the suburbs, which continue northward for several more miles. This is a fairly green stretch of Union Hills Drive, with some apartment communities across from the church and single-family homes on either side.
The cast: The Revd Canon Frank Clark, interim priest-in-charge, was the celebrant. He was assisted by the Revd Deacon Charles Milhoan and lay curate Bruce Jackson, who served as subdeacon and preached. Alan Glover, organist and choirmaster, was in charge of the music. A lector and two adult acolytes were unnamed.
The date & time: Nativity of John the Baptist, Sunday, June 24, 2012, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?
I counted room for 250. There were about 50 people there.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
People who passed me in the parking lot said hello. One gentleman asked me my opinion of the health of a palm tree whose roots seemed to be in distress. Inside, a welcome table was staffed by a lady and a gentleman; I couldnít very well sidle past them without signing the guest book, and so I did. They welcomed me and handed me a visitorís pack containing a water bottle, pen, and a brochure about the church.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes Ė padded pew with kneeler.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of talking and loud visiting out in the lobby; the sound carried into the sanctuary. People in the sanctuary prayed or sat quietly for the most part.

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?
Prayer Book 1979; Hymnal 1982; The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version. The service leaflet had the text of the entire service, so we really didnít need the Prayer Book.

What musical instruments were played?
Electronic organ. A grand piano sat off to the side unused. There was a choir of about 11 women and a lone gentleman.

Did anything distract you?
I noticed one gentleman who wore a yarmulke. I donít think he was Jewish, though, as he went up for communion. Both the subdeacon, who read the first lesson, and the lector, who read the second lesson, had trouble finding the correct page in the book; the deacon had to assist both of them.

St John the Baptist, Glendale, AZ (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A straightforward Rite II liturgy. We sang the Gloria and the Sanctus (to the tune of Land of Rest, one of my favorite settings), but otherwise the service was spoken. Bells were rung at the consecration, but there was no incense. The clergy were vested in chasuble, dalmatic and tunicle; the acolytes in albs; the choir in blue choir robes.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
17 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Mr Jackson spoke clearly and with good eye contact, although he rambled just a bit, I thought.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
John the Baptist was a "miracle baby." It was clear that God was up to something with the birth of this child, but no one knew exactly what. But Zechariah, his father, proclaimed what Johnís mission was to be: to prepare the world for the Messiah. At first glance we might not think of John as a son to be proud of Ė he was a long-haired creature living in the wild and eating strange things; he would eventually die in a dungeon by being beheaded. But John is nevertheless a hero to Christians. His simple sermon lives on: repent and hear the good news. His greatness was not determined by the measurements of this world. There is nothing greater than to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. The greatest among us are those who confess that they are unworthy to untie the sandals of the Messiah.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
For the most part, the music was well chosen: "On Jordanís bank the Baptistís cry" (of course); "Let us break bread together on our knees" at communion. The choirís anthem, Come to the Water, by John Foley, never fails to bring tears to my eyes. The choir were not great, but they did their best.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The organist, however, was a different story. One of the hymns was sung to the tune of Thornbury, not the easiest of sing-alongs under the best of circumstances. But Mr Glover hit so many wrong notes that we could never be sure of just what the melody was.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was quite a crowd at the rear door waiting to shake hands with the clergy, so I slipped out a side door.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
An ice cream social had been announced in honor of the parishís feast of title. Having avoided meeting the clergy, I could hardly have made an appearance at that. Besides, it was lunchtime, and as fond as I am of ice cream, I couldnít see eating it before lunch. So I didnít stay.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – The people seemed friendly enough, and the liturgy was well done. I would want a stronger music program, though. I know itís a Catch-22 situation Ė the choir would sound better if it could attract more singers; but good singers are not attracted to a weak choir. But there it is.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
"There is nothing greater than to be a disciple of Jesus Christ."
 
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