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2774: Surprise Church of Christ, Surprise, Arizona, USA
Surprise Church of Christ, Surprise, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Gloria Day.
The church: Surprise Church of Christ, Surprise, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Churches of Christ.
The building: An attractive modern building. The auditorium is rectangular, bright and airy, with chairs set at angles facing a platform in one corner. Benches and a lectern, plus a variety of artificial plants, graced the platform. A communion table was set up in front of the platform.
The church: They sponsor groups for children, teens, young adults, men, women and seniors. There are two worship services plus Bible classes each Sunday, as well as devotionals held Sunday evening, Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.
The neighborhood: In 1938, a lady named Flora Mae Statler developed a parcel of land northwest of Phoenix for agricultural purposes, saying that she’d “be surprised if it ever amounted to much.” Consisting at first of little more than a gas station at a crossroad, the area grew as retirees were attracted to the relatively remote environs. Today the city of Surprise boasts a population of over 100,000. It is home to a baseball stadium used by the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers for spring training, as well as to a variety of middle class and retirement residential communities, along with the unavoidable urban sprawl of shopping centers. However, there is still a large percentage of undeveloped land within the city limits waiting to be snatched up. The church is located on the interestingly named Silverleaf Way, just off Reems Road, in a tidy middle class residential area.
The cast: Devin LaBay, lead minister, preached. Clayton Walker was in charge of the singing. Elders Jeremiah Brewer, Denny Hall, Drew Pickens and Allen Warner ministered communion.
The date & time: Sunday, October 19, 2014, 8.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Morning Worship Assembly.

How full was the building?
It was hard to count chairs due to their irregular placement, but I think there were about 200. The room was about half full – all age groups were represented, although I saw only about a dozen or so children.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman said, “How are you? Nice to have you with us.” Others came up to me, shook my hand and welcomed me in a similar fashion.

Was your pew comfortable?
Conference room style chairs – very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of visiting. Quite a few people said hello to me, as mentioned.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Good morning. Good to see you.”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Holy Bible, New American Standard Version; Songs of Faith and Praise; Hymns and Spiritual Songs. However, the hymnals weren’t needed, as all hymns were projected on screen.

What musical instruments were played?
None. The Churches of Christ tradition is to sing a cappella. I’ll have more to say about the music in a moment.

Did anything distract you?
The musical notation was all shape note. I had seen videos of shape note singing but had never before witnessed it live. Also, I thought the lead minister could pass for the twin brother of Senator Al Franken, who had been a well known comedian before his election to the Senate in 2009.

Surprise Church of Christ, Surprise, AZ (Preacher)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was basically a shape note sing fest. The hymns were all traditional shape note selections: “On Zion’s Glorious Summit”, “Low in the Grave He Lay”, “Who Will Follow Jesus” and so on. Everyone sang in four part harmony, and with gusto. Communion took place early on in the service, with tiny square wafers and wee cuppies of grape juice brought to us in our seats. There were some prayers, some readings, a sermon and lots of announcements, but the singing predominated.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
28 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Pastor Devin LaBay had a natural, flowing conversational style that was easy to listen to.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His sermon was entitled “Message of a Magnetic Christian” and was based on Matthew 5:13-16 (“You are the salt of the earth”). We assemble each week as the Body of Christ in order to refuel, to go out into the world – no excuses for not doing so! We must be prepared to share God’s message and to back it up with scripture. Mankind has an inborn need to be close to its Creator. We are designed to walk with God – we are hard wired to worship a higher being. Sin is a barrier, making a relationship with God impossible, but God has provided a solution: eternal life in Christ. Jesus had no sin, and so could die for our sins. The reward is eternal life, which is a gift that God freely gives to those who accept Jesus through confession and repentance. It is not enough to believe – we must act on our belief. Yes, there will be problems, struggles, suffering – but Christ gives us a new perspective on all of that: namely hope. That’s the message the world needs to hear from us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The shape note singing was most interesting and quite heavenly, especially the way in which everyone joined in so enthusiastically.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Visitors were encouraged to fill out a visitor’s card and place it in the collection plate. But at the end of the service, the names on all the cards were read out loud! I was glad I hadn’t filled one out!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Lots of people came up to me again and welcomed me. A lady named Vicki invited me to stay for coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was rather weak and unflavorful, I’m afraid. Hot water was also available for those who wanted to mix a cup of cocoa for themselves, but I prefer cocoa made with milk. There were trays of assorted cookies and cakes available – I helped myself to a sugar cookie decorated with a Halloween pumpkin face – very tasty.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – It was certainly an interesting service and a very friendly bunch of folk. Personally I prefer a more liturgically based worship style, but the shape note singing almost made up for lack of ceremony.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It was most refreshing to find a Protestant service that emphasized communion as central to the worship service and that employed traditional music.

Surprise Church of Christ, Surprise, AZ (Hymnal)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The shape note singing.
 
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