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2919: Our Lady of Lourdes, Sun City West, Arizona, USA
Our Lady of Lourdes, Sun City West, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Old Rackensack.
The church: Our Lady of Lourdes, Sun City West, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Phoenix.
The building: A large church in the Southwest Mission Revival style so prevalent in this area. The inside is bright and spacious, with pews angled in toward the altar. The altar is marble, with a smaller altar with tabernacle behind. The pulpit is also marble. Choir seating plus organ console and pipe chamber are to the left; there is also a pipe chamber high up on the west wall.
The church: The parish includes two churches: Our Lady of Lourdes and Prince of Peace. They participate in all the usual Roman Catholic social and spiritual groups, as described on their website. Somewhat out of the ordinary is their Knights of Columbus Ladies’ Auxiliary (the K of C is exclusively a men’s group). They also consider Money Counters among the parish ministries (forgetting, perhaps, Matthew 21:12). There is a noonday mass each weekday, with two Sunday masses plus the Saturday vigil. Confessions are heard on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
The neighborhood: Sun City West is a retirement community among the northwest suburbs of Phoenix – mostly single family homes with an abundance of assisted living facilities, nursing homes and medical offices, as well as golf courses, dotting the landscape. Everything the well heeled oldster could want or need. There is a golf course directly across the street from the church, plus a United Church of Christ a short way down the road.
The cast: The Revd Augustine Ogumere, C.S.Sp. (Congregation of the Holy Spirit), parochial vicar, was the celebrant. He was assisted the Revd Mr Nick Bonaiuto, deacon; plus unnamed crucifer, acolytes lectors and cantor. Virginia Schoberg presided at the organ.
The date & time: Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 13, 2015, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Mass.

How full was the building?
It’s a large church and was about three-quarters full, with people spread out fairly evenly.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady held the door for me with a “Good morning, sir.” A gentleman said “Good morning” as he handed me the hymn sheet.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes – padded wooden pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People entered quietly for the most part, although there was the occasional louder voice to be heard. The organist struck up a Bach chorale prelude although I didn’t recognize which one it was. An elderly gent sidled past me into my pew and wanted to talk about the weather, but I wanted to listen to the organ. He finally took the hint and sidled in a bit further away from me.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Good morning and welcome” followed by announcements.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Only the hymn sheet, which also included the text of the Gloria and Creed. In the pews was a loose leaf binder containing miscellaneous devotions.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ. I couldn’t determine the make, but I believe it’s a hybrid instrument – part pipe and part digital.

Did anything distract you?
I’m afraid I was the distraction! During the offertory I dropped my cane on the floor, and it managed to roll under the pew in front of me. Outside, I noticed a stuffed owl perched in the belfry. I employ a similar device to keep birds off my porch.

Our Lady of Lourdes, Sun City West, AZ (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A well celebrated mass. We chanted the Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei in Latin to Gregorian settings, and the Lord’s Prayer in English to a simplified Gregorian setting. But the Gloria was one of those amalgams of notes strung together without regard for musical worth – the tune wasn’t included in the hymn sheet, but the congregation got through it anyway. Bells at the consecration but no incense.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Father Ogumere spoke with a heavy African accent that was difficult to understand. He didn’t use the pulpit, but stood in front of the altar. He made good use of hand gestures.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
A minister is a servant of God, and Christ is at the center of that service. We serve through suffering – Christ’s suffering is a template for us. We’ll be with Christ forever in heaven if only we can endure suffering to bring the Good News to the world. Jesus enables us to do this – we can’t do it on our own. Let us thank God for what he has done for us, and let us ask him to strengthen us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Several of the hymns were old standbys: “Lift High the Cross”, “America the Beautiful”, “Take Up Your Cross” (to Duke Street, of course), and were a pleasure to sing.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But others were from the lower end of the Marty Haugen/Dan Schutte body of output and sounded – erm – God-awful.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I could tell that my pew mate wanted to get out without singing the recessional hymn, but I made believe I didn’t notice it. So I made him stay for three of the four verses of “Take Up Your Cross” and then I let him take up his cross and go with it where he pleased. The organist struck up a lively postlude as people left.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee and donuts had been announced in the parish hall, but most people didn’t seem headed that way. When I finally found it, I saw that only a handful of people had bothered to stay. Tickets were being sold for $1.00, and both regular and decaf coffee plus an assortment of donuts were available in exchange for a ticket. I helped myself to an apple fritter (fresh and delicious!) and a cup of regular coffee (hot and strong!). As I put down my fritter so that I could hold the cup in one hand and manipulate the spigot on the coffee urn with the other hand, a lady pushed in ahead of me at the urn. I sat down at a table by myself, and a lady at another table beckoned me to come over and sit with her. But the place to which she was beckoning me looked occupied (some items had been placed in it), and indeed it turned out that she was beckoning to a gentleman standing behind me whom I hadn’t seen. No one paid any attention to me – not even my old pew mate, whose musings about the weather I would now have been happy to entertain – so I left after finishing my fritter.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – It’s a lovely church with an active slate of programs and a reverent approach to the liturgy, but I don’t think this is the crowd for me.

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

Our Lady of Lourdes, Sun City West, AZ (Owl

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The stuffed owl in the belfry.
 
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