Church of the Beatitudes, Phoenix, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Church of the Beatitudes, Phoenix
Location: Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 24 September 2023, 10:30am

The building

The congregation was founded in 1964 and met in a barn. Their present building dates from 1972 and is the work of local architect Richard Britt. It was renovated in 2019 by the local firm of Barduson Architects, whose business centers and churches feature simple yet creative designs. From the outside it looks like a tipped-over pyramid. The inside is triangular, as one would expect of a pyramid, with the base at the rear. Pews are found only at the right and left walls; the center consists of chairs. A pleasant surprise was two plush leather sofas at the rear. A communion table and pulpit stand in front of a platform holding a grand piano and the organ console. On the wall behind the platform is a remarkable window, one of the largest commissions ever undertaken by Los Angeles’ Judson Studios, featuring a faceted glass figure of Jesus, hands raised in blessing, with the faces of the prophet Jeremiah, Gandhi, Einstein, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, social worker Jane Addams, and others in the folds of his robe.

The church

From their website: ‘We are an open and affirming progressive Christian community of faith-seeking and faith-keeping people grounded in stories and truths from the scriptures.’ Their Faith in Action group involves itself with a variety of charitable and educational activities. They are very much into the arts, sponsoring performances by musical groups throughout the year, art exhibitions, and trips to local museums. There is one service each Sunday.

The neighborhood

They are located on Glendale Avenue at 7th Avenue, a varied but pleasant mixture of residential and commercial buildings. Just down the street is First Christian Church, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, perhaps the 20th century’s most celebrated architect. Down the street in another direction is the Beatitudes Campus of Care, an upscale (judging from their entrance fees and rental rates) senior citizen independent living/assisted living community run by the church.

The cast

A guest minister took the service and preached. He was assisted by a lay reader.

What was the name of the service?

Worship Service, I guess. There was no service leaflet and no mention of what the service might have been called.

How full was the building?

The capacity is listed at 350. I counted about 35 – mostly middle aged to elderly women. Just a handful of middle aged to elderly men. No young adults, no youth, no children.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Several people out in the lobby said hello. Inside, one lady shook my hand and said, ‘How are you this morning? I’m [name]. Nice to meet you.’ Otherwise no one paid me any attention.

Was your pew comfortable?

I sank down into one of the leather sofas and didn’t budge from it, so you can answer that question for yourselves. I didn’t sample the pews or the chairs.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Lots of visiting out in the lobby, but quiet inside for the most part. A pianist dressed in pink shirt, blue jeans, and reddish brown slippers of some sort, played some tinkly bits. Announcements were projected. At service time the pianist moved over to the organ and played what sounded like a fantasia on ‘Ye Watchers And Ye Holy Ones.’

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good morning, Church!’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The New Century Hymnal, but we needed it for only one number. Everything else was projected.

What musical instruments were played?

Grand piano, in perfect tune, and an electronic organ. I think the organ was a Rodgers.

Did anything distract you?

That magnificent window was a distraction, but in a pleasant way. I kept trying to spot exactly how many faces were buried in Christ’s robe, and who they were. An explanatory leaflet would have been helpful. The Bible version that the lector was using for the readings was different from the version that was being projected.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

It was more a variety show than a service. The organist pulled out all the stops on ‘Ye Watchers’ – calming and meditative it was not! Following the greeting were announcements lasting about eight minutes, after which the guest minister was introduced via a reading of his rather lengthy curriculum vitae. Then some give-and-take between minister and congregation, followed by scripture readings. Then a hymn – a rather jaunty number. This was followed by the sermon. Next came an exquisitely beautiful rendering of the old spiritual ‘Go Down Moses’ by the pianist (see below). Then the offering, blessing, and a final number. Why do I say it was a variety show? Read on!

Exactly how long was the sermon?

20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

5 — The guest minister wore a blue shirt, gray slacks, and a stole depicting various churchy things. He spoke quietly but very dramatically. I had absolutely no idea of what he was talking about until about halfway through, when it began to become clear.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

I believe he was preaching on the readings of the day: Matthew 20:1-16 (the parable of the laborers in the vineyard) and Numbers 27:1-8 (the daughters of Zelophehad receive their just inheritance). We must trust the Lord to give us what is due, but we must also do our best to earn it. That’s only fair – but generosity goes beyond fairness. God is generous. When we are generous, we act like God. Generosity can change the world.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The pianist’s rendering of ‘Go Down Moses’ was just breathtaking! He began with a spontaneous take on the melody, a cappella, followed by a lengthy piano improvisation, and concluding with a final a cappella verse. He sang in a fine baritone voice and the whole number was goosebump-raising! And oh, that magnificent window!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Just about everything else. Everything was applauded – and I mean everything! The opening announcements. The guest minister’s curriculum vitae. The opening song. The scripture readings (yes, they were!). The sermon. ‘Go Down Moses’ (I’m almost tempted to say justly so). The prayer. The blessing. You see now why I said it was more a variety show than a service?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

The closing song was something called ‘The Holy Spirit sends me out’, sung to what sounded very much like ‘Old MacDonald had a farm.’ During the collection I had the distinct impression that it would be noticed that I had put something in the plate other than money, and so I refrained. I left the Mystery Worship Calling Card on the plush leather sofa and let the Holy Spirit send me out as fast as he could move me. Ee eye ee eye oh!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

It had been announced but I didn’t stay.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

0 – No blessed way! I had such high hopes for this church based on what I had read about it. But what a letdown! I didn’t feel as if I had been to church at all!

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

I’m afraid it didn’t.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The plush leather sofa.

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