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2796: Palm Vista Baptist, Surprise, Arizona, USA
Palm Vista Baptist, Surprise, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Gloria Day.
The church: Palm Vista Baptist, Surprise, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Southern Baptist Convention.
The building: The congregation was formed in 1998 and met in a local high school. Their present building dates from 1999 and is a low, square affair with a slender pointed steeple. Construction is well underway on a new building on campus just behind the old one. The interior is also square, with a platform in one of the corners formed by the walls, and chairs set up to face the platform. The room was dark, but I could make out the color scheme, which was brown walls, brown carpeting and brown chairs.
The church: Their many ministries are well documented on their website. I’ll just mention AWANA, (quoting from their website) “a nondenominational Bible club that helps churches and parents rear children and youth to know, love, and serve Christ.” They run the Palms Christian School for grades kindergarten through sixth. There are three services each Sunday.
The neighborhood: Surprise is the northwestern-most suburb of Phoenix. The church is located on Bell Road west of the Loop 303 ring road. Across the street are a golf course and the Happy Trails Adult RV Resort – whose sign at first glance I thought read “Happy Trails Adultery Resort.” Strange bedfellow for a church, it seemed.
The cast: No one was identified, and I cannot determine who’s who judging from the photos on their website. The preacher may have been the Revd Jackie Allen, lead pastor. Opening remarks were made by someone whom the preacher referred to as the executive pastor, so I’m going to assume that he was the Revd Chad Kritenbrink, who is identified as such on the website.
The date & time: Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014, 6.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
The Big Phat Story. What this title had to do with the service, however, was not clear.

How full was the building?
I counted about 500 chairs and they were completely full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman at the door shook my hand and wished me a merry Christmas.

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

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of loud visiting, hugging, merry Christmas wishing, etc. No one paid me any attention, though. A lady wanted me to move so that her party could all sit together, judging from remarks she made to others in a voice clearly intended for me to overhear. Assuming that she had asked me politely, "Excuse me, but would you mind moving over one or two chairs?" I got up and changed seats. Five minutes before start time, a countdown clock was flashed on screen and a gentleman played a saxophone solo – a jazzy rendition of “The First Noel” – accompanied by a pre-recorded background track.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Good evening. Welcome.”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. There were no prayers or readings from scripture. Words to songs were projected. The New American Standard Bible was in the seats but was not used.

What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano, three guitars, saxophone, drums. There were two female vocalists, and one of the guitarists (male) also sang.

Did anything distract you?
A woman near me was wearing a heavy dose of a particular brand of perfume – I don’t know what it’s called – that makes me gag.

Palm Vista Baptist, Surprise, AZ (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
No clapping or hand waving or Hallelujahs or anything like that. The songs were all standard Christmas carols in lite-rock arrangements. As mentioned, there were no prayers, Bible readings or announcements – just the songs and then the sermon.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
25 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – I was all set to give the lead pastor a 3, or maybe even a 2, as he started out rather humdrum, I thought. But all of a sudden he got good – very good.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Bible is not about us; it’s about God. There are lots of stories in the Bible, but they all boil down to one: God’s love. The prophets pointed to Jesus but the Old Testament ends with a curse, and then God went silent. The world went dark. [At this point he blew out a candle that had been burning on the podium, and the lights, which had been very dim to begin with, were turned off. The church was in total darkness.] But the Bible is a story of hope, not hopelessness. God came knocking with the birth of Jesus, and light dawned once again. [Here the church lights were turned back on.] Jesus reversed the curse of the Garden of Eden. He left us in a cloud of glory with a promise to return once more. We are hypocrites if we celebrate Jesus’ first coming tonight but live our lives as though his second coming will never happen. The cute little baby we celebrate tonight cannot be separated from the blood-stained cross, the empty tomb, or the Second Coming. Meanwhile, God is knocking on our hearts – have we answered? Isaiah called Jesus "wonderful counselor, the prince of peace." What do we call him? Have we been saved?

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
One of the songs, “Mary, Did You Know?”, was very nicely done and very pretty. It is the only song that received applause.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Why is it that these rock-concert-as-church services have to take place in darkness?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The woman sitting next to me came right to the point: “Are you a reporter?” she asked. I showed her the Mystery Worship card that I was about to leave on the seat (there had been no collection) and told her a little about the Ship of Fools. She seemed interested. Other than that, no one paid any attention to me. Everyone left quickly and reassembled in small groups out on the patio.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – The preaching was good (eventually) but this is not my style of worship. And maybe it was just because it was Christmas Eve and they had Luke 2:7 fresh in their minds (although they hadn't heard it read tonight), but they seemed inhospitable to strangers.

Palm Vista Baptist, Surprise, AZ (Preacher)

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The sermon did, but not anything else.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
“Are you a reporter?”
 
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