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3296: Mount of Olives Lutheran, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Mount of Olives Lutheran, Phoenix, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Mount of Olives Lutheran, Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Grand Canyon Synod.
The building: A simple rectangular structure with pitched roof and L-shaped classroom/office wing attached. One enters a lobby furnished with leather couches. The sanctuary is off to the right. It was dimly lit, with the altar at the intersection of two of the walls and the pews at an angle facing the altar. A holy water font stood at the back. A grand piano was to the right. To the left had been set up some tables and chairs where the meal would be served.
The church: The Metropolitan Community Church Phoenix and Solomon’s Porch also worship in the building, and today’s service was a combined one featuring the clergy and congregations of all three churches.
The neighborhood: Mount of Olives Lutheran Church is located on East Thomas Road between 35th and 36th Streets, a rather plebeian area of Phoenix’s East Side. Fast food eateries, a check cashing service, a pawn shop, and miscellaneous other business establishments are its immediate neighbors. See below re an interesting observation about the insurance agency directly across the street from the church.
The cast: No one was identified. There was a female clergy person in black slacks and grey blouse with Roman collar; a male clergy person in khaki slacks and blue untucked shirt with Roman collar; and another male clergy person in black cassock with Roman collar. All wore red stoles. I’m guessing from their respective websites and by the process of elimination that the woman was the Revd Stoney Bowen-Weiszmann, pastor of Mount of Olives Lutheran Church; the gentleman in the blue shirt was the Revd Tom Weller, associate pastor of Solomon’s Porch; and the gentleman in the cassock was the pastor of Metropolitan Community Church Phoenix (he is not identified on their website). A pianist played some Bach pieces before the service; he was not named.
The date & time: Maundy Thursday, March 29, 2018, 7.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Dinner Liturgy.

How full was the building?
I counted 24 people, including clergy.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No.

Was your pew comfortable?
The chairs at the table were OK – not great.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
When I entered, about a half dozen people were sitting in the lobby, and another three or four were in the sanctuary. No one paid me any attention. The aforementioned pianist was playing assorted Bach pieces. People entered the sanctuary quietly, dipping their right hand in the holy water font and crossing themselves. All sat down quietly save for one party sitting behind me, who chattered and cackled incessantly, drowning out the Bach. I changed my seat.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“How’s everyone doing?” We were told that they were waiting for the soup to arrive, at which point we would be invited to sit at the table. Just then it did indeed arrive, and we all found a place at table.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Already on the table was a handout containing the Maundy Thursday liturgy, prepared by Augsburg Fortress.

What musical instruments were played?
None. There was no music save for the pianist before the service began.

Did anything distract you?
Well, I was surprised to see a holy water font in a Lutheran church. And this: Many Phoenix businesses employ "sign spinners" – people hired to stand in front of the business holding a sign that points to the business and spinning the sign in their hands to attract passers-by. As I crossed the street to get a better vantage point for taking a picture of the church, I noticed a sign spinner outside the insurance agency directly across from the church – a rather attractive, scantily dressed woman spinning her sign. Then I realized it wasn't a woman at all, but a mechanical dummy! Later, as the insurance agency owner closed up shop for the night, I saw him wheel the dummy inside before locking the door.

Mount of Olives, Phoenix, AZ (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A very lovely service indeed. It began with a bell being rung six times (why six, I wondered, it was seven o'clock). We then recited the confession and received absolution. Next, we listened to scripture readings, including Matthew 26:14-46 (the Last Supper; as the eucharistic words of institution were spoken, a bell was rung). We recited the Lord’s Prayer and partook of bread, which was passed around, and either wine or grape juice as we chose (wee cuppies of each had been set in each place at the table). Then we were invited to help ourselves to the meal – a delicious lentil, carrot and celery soup and dinner rolls. After the meal there were intercessions and foot washing (well, hand washing instead; Pastor Bowen-Weiszmann said that they had conferred about it and had concluded that in these modern times the hands are more likely to get dirty than are the feet). The service ended with an exchange of peace and stripping of the altar.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The lentil soup was fantastic!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was no music. The gospels of Matthew and Mark both tell us that Jesus and the twelve sang a hymn at the Last Supper; why didn’t we? And I would have liked for the clergy to have introduced themselves. Finally, dinner conversation at the table was strictly among friends; no effort was made to engage the stranger in their midst (Miss Amanda).

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were invited to stay for the stripping of the altar and then to exit in silence. But silence was not observed, I’m afraid – at least among the regulars; no one spoke to me. There had been no offering received, so I left my Mystery Worship calling card on the table and then departed.

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)?
7 – I would attend this service again, but it’s a bit too far from where I live for me to make this my regular church, lovely as it is.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The delicious lentil soup.
 
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