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3247: South Peoria Baptist, Peoria, Arizona, USA
South Peoria Baptist, Peoria, AZ (exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Old Rackensack.
The church: South Peoria Baptist, Peoria, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Southern Baptist Convention.
The building: From the street, one sees a plain but attractive rectangular building with a steeple on top and an alcove with picnic tables out front. That building, as it turns out, is not what they call their worship center; that’s further back, and looks similar. The inside is auditorium-like, with the obligatory colored theatrical lighting, projection screen, curtained stage, and conference room style chairs.
The church: They have a traditional and contemporary (they call it “modern”) service each Sunday, and youth meetings on Wednesday evenings. There is a group for seniors. There are periodic events such as youth lock-in, ladies’ retreat, etc.
The neighborhood: They are located on Olive Avenue near the Loop 101 ring road in this western suburb of Phoenix. Several other churches are nearby, as well as shopping centers and apartment complexes.
The cast: Jeremiah Hayes, senior pastor, was the preacher. Anthony D’Avello, youth minister and worship leader, conducted the rest of the service. Both were informally dressed, the worship leader with his shirt untucked. Two singers and a young woman playing keyboard were unnamed.
The date & time: Sunday, October 29, 2017, 9.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Traditional Service.

How full was the building?
I counted about 300 chairs; about 40 were occupied, mostly by old ladies. Several walkers and at least one wheelchair. Most people sat toward the back and everyone was pretty well spread out.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Several people shook my hand and said hello, welcome. During the meet and greet, just about everyone said hello.

Was your pew comfortable?
The chair was comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of visiting and talking.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Good morning, Church.”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A paperback New Testament, New International Version, was in the seat backs. Words to the songs were projected on screen. Prayers were all extemporaneous.

What musical instruments were played?
Digital keyboard. Also on stage were at least one electric guitar and a drum set, both of which remained unused. A grand piano had been shoved off into a corner and remained closed and silent.

Did anything distract you?
I don’t know how to say this delicately, but it seems that the pastor has gained some weight since the last time he went shopping for clothes. He bulged noticeably and quite distractingly around the waist and in certain other areas.

South Peoria Baptist, Peoria, AZ (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I wouldn’t call it traditional. It opened with a video of announcements by a gentleman named Tony Puente, who billed himself as a “spokesman.” Anthony D’Avello, youth minister and worship leader, made some more announcements, said a prayer, and read from scripture. The music was all what I would call lite Christian easy listening. The meet and greet seemed to go on forever and continued even after the music resumed. There was no communion service, and no collection was taken up.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
43 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 – The senior pastor spoke without notes and was relaxed and conversational, but I’m afraid I can’t mark him any higher. I thought his sermon was rambling and disjointed, with all those references to “the law.”

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Entitled “How to Neighbor” (and setting aside the use of a noun as a verb), it was based on the parable of the Good Samaritan. A lawyer had asked Jesus how he could attain heaven, and when Jesus answered, the lawyer went on to try to “justify himself.” Laws exist to show guilt, and we try to explain away our guilt (justify ourselves). When Jesus told the lawyer to love his neighbor, the lawyer claimed not to know who his neighbor was. (Surely not that Roman centurion; he’s not one of us. Surely not a Samaritan; everyone knows we’re supposed to hate them.) But followers of Christ are led by the Spirit, not the law. There is no life in following rules. The Spirit shows us how to change, how to be more like Christ, not how to explain away our guilt. There is no law against the gifts of the Spirit. We must prioritize our lives to show how much we love God. God has unleashed us on the world to become involved – that’s what neighboring means.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I can’t say I found anything about it to be heavenly.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, let’s just say it made me feel like I was in limbo.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The pastor asked those to come forward who wished to pray or be prayed for. I slipped out the back.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I saw no evidence that any was on offer.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – This style of worship is not for me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I felt neutral.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That I am apparently so old that my idea of “traditional worship” is completely foreign to today’s congregations.
 
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