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2544: Christ Church Anglican, Carefree, Arizona, USA
Christ Anglican, Carefree, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Christ Church Anglican, Carefree, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Traditional Episcopal Church, Anglican Province of Christ the King, Diocese of the Southwestern States.
The building: It’s in the Spanish Mission style and was consecrated in 1999. The interior is very simple, with white walls and dark brown ceiling. An eastward-facing altar sits atop three steps. In the courtyard stands a large stone cross, a work by local sculptor Robert Thornley that is patterned after the Ruthwell Cross of Dumfriesshire, Scotland.
The church: Quoting from their website: they are "a founding member of the Diocese of the Southwestern States in the Anglican Province of Christ the King, which began as an outreach from the clergy of Saint Nicholas Anglican Church, Scottsdale, Arizona in July of 1997." They claim to have a strong music program, beginning with the Cherub Choir, continuing through Sunday school music classes, and culminating in Cantus Ensemble, the parish’s primary choral group. (I have reason for doubting the program’s strength, as will be seen.) They also offer Jubilate, a music class open to persons of all ages who wish to learn more about the role of music in worship. They have men’s and women’s groups that meet for breakfast. They are also linked in some way to a grammar school in Sierra Leone, again as will be seen. Their newsletter, Angelus, comes out regularly but appears last to have been uploaded to their website in 2009. Likewise, their online calendar is bereft of entries. (Had it not been, I would have been forewarned about today’s service!)
The neighborhood: Carefree, one of the northeastern suburbs of Phoenix, was developed in the 1950s as a master planned upscale community that strives toward the kind of relaxed lifestyle that only money can buy. The town fathers may have carried things to a bit of an extreme, though, with street names such as Tranquil Trail, Serene Way, and Ho-Hum Road. The town center features a copper sundial said to be the third largest in the Western Hemisphere. Until 1999, Carefree was home to Southwestern Studios, where the 1970s TV program The New Dick Van Dyke Show was produced (the show was set in Phoenix) and where films including Zabriski Point and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure were shot, along with some Orson Welles and Bob Hope features. Today, Dick Van Dyke makes Carefree his home. The church is located just west of the center of town.
The cast: The Revd Steven Dart, rector, was the celebrant. The Revd Canon F.T. Rodier, assistant priest, was the gospeller. The Revd Frank Hume-Dawson preached. Karen Janusz presided at the organ.
The date & time: Trinity Sunday, May 26, 2013, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Annual Thanksgiving Service: The Sierra Leone Grammar School Alumni Association of North America, West Coast Chapter.

How full was the building?
I counted room for about 100. It was half full at the start of the service, but a large number of latecomers made it almost completely full by gospel time.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. Service leaflets were available on a stand in the narthex. After I had sat down, a lady entering the pew in front of me wished me a good morning and asked me if bulletins were available. I told her where I had found mine, and she said, "Do we pick up our own, then?" I replied that I was as much a first-time visitor as she was.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes – cushioned pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very noisy – lots of visiting. I suspect that the majority of the congregation were friends and family of the Sierra Leone Grammar School alumni or of the baptismal party.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Welcome to Christ Church on this beautiful Trinity Sunday." The procession consisted of crucifer in cassock and cotta, gospeller in alb and stole, preacher in lace alb, preacher’s scarf, academic hood and (alone among the clergy) biretta, and the celebrant in full eucharistic vestiture.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Book of Common Prayer (1928), Hymnal (1940), a paperbound booklet entitled Christ Church Visitors’ Guide for the Service of Holy Communion. There was also a service leaflet, which consisted primarily of page references to itself – that is to say, the first part was an outline of the service and referred to prayers and hymns printed farther toward the back.

What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ, from a console in the gallery. The choir also sang from the gallery.

Did anything distract you?
There were many distractions, both good and bad. The grammar school alumni looked very smart in their school blazers and ties. But all during the service, a steady stream of people got up and left at various times, only to return a moment later, including (alas) my pewmates. The crucifer was apparently not used to genuflecting, as whenever he did so he appeared on the verge of losing his balance.

Christ Anglican, Carefree, AZ (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It tried to be stiff-upper-lip but seemed surprisingly informal and unrehearsed. It included a baptism, which was not announced in the service bulletin. There were bells and genuflections, and bowing at the name of Jesus, but no incense. I was surprised at the number of congregants who didn’t take communion. The service concluded with a Te Deum (listed in the bulletin as "the Tedium"
, and for good reason), which was sung and played so badly that it actually had people in the congregation scratching their heads in amazement. This was followed by a rousing rendition of the Sierra Leone Grammar School Song and the Sierra Leone National Anthem – both a cappella, as the organist said (when the rector asked her to play them) that she didn’t know them.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
2 – Father Hume-Dawson held a plastic water bottle, from which he took a generous swig before beginning his sermon and from which he refreshed himself often during same. He held it the entire time and waved it about, much as an Orthodox priest holds a crucifix while preaching. He kept his eyes buried in his notes almost the entire time, and spoke with a heavy Sierra Leonean accent that was hard to understand.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Many Christians are intelligent, faithful people, and yet don’t understand their faith. We did not have a lot of options when we were born – the time and place of our birth, what name our parents would choose for us, etc. – and we don’t have a lot of options either at our "second birth" – and yet we must be "born again" ("again" also meaning "from above") in order to be saved. Baptism is our second birth. Regardless of what difficulties we may face in life, we must allow ourselves to be born again.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I had not experienced the 1928 baptismal rite before, and I was struck by its beauty. At the offertory, two choir members sang Carl Schalk’s Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word as a duet, which came off rather nicely.

Christ Anglican, Carefree, AZ (Baptism)

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But the communion anthems – an anonymous 16th century motet and a Benedictus by Adam Gumpelzhaimer – didn’t fare as well. In fact, the music in general was of a caliber that made me wonder just how strong their music program is. The organist seemed unaware that the organ included diapason and string stops (she favored flutes even to support the congregational singing), and apparently confused the swell pedal for a bellows, so assiduously did she keep pumping it. The choir lacked volume and did not blend, and had a propensity for going sour, especially in the Amen at the end of each hymn. Hardly anyone in the congregation sang – not surprising, given the lack of support from the organ.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The service had gone on for almost two hours, and I was in no mood to hang around looking like anything. I would have run screaming from the place ages ago had I not been Mystery Worshipping. I looked around for a side door to slip out of without having to shake hands with the clergy, and fortunately I found one.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
A buffet luncheon had been spread out in honor of the Alumni Association reunion, but as of yet there was no one in the hall when I poked my head in to look. I wasn’t in the mood to acquaint myself with the cuisine of Sierra Leone, so I left.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – No way! I know that today’s service was a special occasion, but this is how they do their special occasions? What could an ordinary Sunday be like? Surely the organist knew beforehand that the service would conclude with the Sierra Leone National Anthem, but she couldn't trouble herself to find a copy and learn it? If I were a Sierra Leonean, I would take it as an insult!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No.

Christ Anglican, Carefree, AZ (Cross)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The preacher waving his water bottle about.

 
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