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2788: Prince of Peace, Sun City West, Arizona, USA
Prince of Peace, Sun City West, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Old Rackensack.
The church: Prince of Peace, Sun City West, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Phoenix.
The building: Dedicated in 1999, it is a large church, a beautiful example of the Spanish Mission Revival style. The church and parish hall stand on either side of a courtyard featuring some fine statuary, including a statue of Mother Teresa. The interior of the church is bright, spacious and tastefully understated. The Archangel Michael stands guard over the baptismal font in the rear of the church.
The church: This is one of two churches that comprise the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes and Prince of Peace. Their activities are well documented on their website and include a Men’s Club, a Women’s Guild, and chapters of the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Daughters. The church is proud of its music program – and rightly so (read on!).
The neighborhood: Sun City West is a retirement suburb to the northwest of Phoenix. The church is located in a quiet residential neighborhood featuring large one-story houses.
The cast: Alas, no one was identified, and the website does not include their photos. There were the celebrant and deacon, a crucifer, two acolytes, and lay readers. I’ll speak more about the excellent organist and leader of song in a moment.
The date & time: First Sunday of Advent, November 30, 2014, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Mass.

How full was the building?
It’s a large church and it appeared to be about three-quarters full. Mostly older folk in keeping with the demographics of Sun City West, but some younger ones as well.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady saw me snapping photos of the statuary in the courtyard and told me she liked the statues too. A gentleman at the door said “Good morning.”

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes – padded pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People entered quietly. The organist played a medley of hymns and sacred music, including an excellent rendition of Bach’s choral prelude Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645. (Later she told me she was surprised that anyone had recognized it.) An announcement was made concerning a car alarm that had gone off in the parking lot. A gentleman gave a brief talk about the Knights of Columbus, about which I’ll have more to say below.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Welcome to Prince of Peace Church.” This was followed by several announcements and an admonition to silence cell phones.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There was a handout that included hymns and the ordinary of the mass, but not the service music or the propers. In the pews was a three-ring binder containing miscellaneous prayers and devotions.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, a very fine four-manual Rodgers electronic instrument expertly played. There was also an Estonia concert grand piano that remained silent.

Did anything distract you?
The pulpit microphone was not turned up loud enough, and it was very hard to hear the readings. Fortunately the lector spoke slowly and clearly. All of a sudden, someone adjusted the volume during the gospel reading, and it was smooth going from then on.

Prince of Peace, Sun City West, AZ (Font)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A beautifully executed liturgical celebration. Priest and deacon were vested in purple chasuble and dalmatic, respectively, and the rest of the altar party wore cassocks and cottas – and black slacks, socks and shoes, I’m happy to report. We chanted the Kyrie in Latin to the Gregorian setting no. XVI, but the Sanctus and Agnus Dei to the settings from the Missa Pro Defunctis. The hymns were traditional – “Come thou long expected Jesus” (to the tune of Hyfrydol), “Sleepers wake” and only one singing-nun ditty. No bells or incense, though. At the intercessions we prayed “that persecution of the Jews may cease, and for an end to the Islamic scourge throughout the world.”

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The deacon read his sermon from a prepared text, which to me is not the same as preaching. Oh, well, the Pope does that too, so he’s in good company. I’ll grant that it was an interesting message.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The deacon began by telling us about some foolish things he’s done, including once falling asleep at the wheel while driving. We all do foolish things, often ignoring warning signs. Sometimes we lack the spiritual energy to resist the inappropriate. But we have to recognize where temptations lie, and how to deal with them, or we will find ourselves shut out. We must fight against the darkness of the world and our lives, not missing the opportunity to bring light to the darkness. Advent is a time when Jesus leads us into his love, closer to himself. Hope, watch, wait – and stay awake!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was absolutely marvelous! The leader of song had a lovely voice, brought out especially in the psalm setting by Owen Alstott, a prolific composer of contemporary church music, and in a lovely rendition of the Gregorian chant Alma Redemptoris Mater at communion time. Unlike many Catholic congregations, the people sang with gusto. The organist knows how to support congregational singing and is quite familiar with the tonal possibilities of the fine Rodgers instrument at her command.

Prince of Peace, Sun City West, AZ (Clergy)

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But I respectfully submit that “Sleepers wake” is perhaps not the best choice of hymns to sing while people are busy queuing for communion. And the gentleman who spoke before mass about the Knights of Columbus reminded me of Mark Twain’s account of the missionary at church. Twain was moved by his presentation and determined to put 25˘ in the plate when it came around. As the missionary talked on and on, he decided to put in 50˘, then 75˘. But he kept going on and on, and when the plate finally came around Twain took a dollar out of it!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had a long talk with the leader of song and organist about the church’s music program. I told the organist what a pleasure it was to find a Catholic church that offered good music, and she replied, “We’re determined here.” The leader of song told me that the choir usually takes an earlier service, and that they were well-balanced if a little weak in the soprano section (unusual, she said). I’ll be back to hear them.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn’t see that any was on offer. The place had pretty well emptied out by the time I was done talking with the musicians.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – There was nothing I didn’t like, except perhaps the deacon reading his sermon from a prepared text. The liturgy was celebrated with dignity and the music was first-rate! I’m not Catholic, though, and cannot bring myself to subscribe to all of the teachings of the Catholic Church.

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

Prince of Peace, Sun City West, AZ (Statue)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The organist’s beautiful rendition of Wachet Auf.
 
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