Desert Palms Presbyterian, Sun City West, AZ (Exterior)

Desert Palms Presbyterian, Sun City West, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Desert Palms Presbyterian
Location: Sun City West, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 25 May 2014, 10:30am

The building

It was designed by architects associated with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The initial phase was dedicated in 1986, with additions in 1990 and 2001. The exterior reminded me of a copper-clad soccer ball with tower. The interior is rose and beige, with pews on five sides of the pulpit. There is a good description of the building on the church's website. It's a comfortable, well designed space.

The church

They sponsor a friendship group for senior citizens, a Men of the Church group, and several womens' groups including golfing, quilting, crafts, and Soul Sisters (described on their website as "a group of active, fun loving friends" who meet "for dinners, games, conversation and getting to know one another." They also support a number of local charities including Habitat for Humanity, Homeward Bound, and community centers and food banks. There are two services each Sunday except in summer, when there is only one, and special services on (again quoting from their website) "the great festivals of the Church."

The neighborhood

Sun City West is an upscale retirement suburb northwest of Phoenix. The church is located at Stardust Boulevard (love the name) and 135th Avenue, in a residential area of ranch-style houses.

The cast

The Revd James W. Crelin, 3rd, head of staff, was the preacher. The Revd Linda J. Bailey, associate pastor, led the intercessions and Lord's Prayer. Mary Mathiason spoke the invitation to worship.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Worship.

How full was the building?

The sanctuary was built to hold about 500, but the leftmost section was roped off and the choir occupied the rightmost section. The remaining sections were about two-thirds full. An elderly crowd, as befits the demographics of Sun City West, with one or two younger visiting family members.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A lady handing out bulletins asked, "Will you be needing one of these?" Several greeters said hello and shook my hand. Pastor Crelin saw me taking photos and remarked that he still had his Easter decorations up and would leave them up until Pentecost. He then introduced himself and shook my hand.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes - plush upholstered pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Lots of visiting and talking. The pianist played a medley of selections, one of which was variations on "Come thou font of every blessing" that sounded as if it could have been written by Mozart.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning to each and every one of you!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Presbyterian Hymnal and a bulletin with a music insert.

What musical instruments were played?

Wendy Fentiman, director of music ministry, conducted the choir, with Virginia D. Wilson at the organ and piano. John Huston, Cathy Hockstad and Lee Subke played the clarinet, violin and flute, respectively. Nora Ziegelbauer, contralto, sang a solo.

Did anything distract you?

On the platform next to the minister's bench were two styrofoam cups resting on a small table. Also, one of the visiting family members was a young gentleman, the grandson of a parishioner, who could have passed for the twin brother of a tenor who sings in my musical group.

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

A sober Presbyterian hymn sandwich. The hymns were all traditional and were played well and sung well. There was a communion table up front with a loaf of bread and jug of wine on it, but there was no communion today - odd, I thought. In the Lord's Prayer we used the "debts/debtors" language.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

24 minutes.

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

6 – Pastor Crelin spoke in a loud, highly excitable style. He compared the Christian life to a football game, but I think he carried the metaphor way past the breaking point. His sermon would have been ten minutes shorter had he cut out the play-by-play descriptions of great football moments from days gone by. The choir filed out of church right before the sermon - at least no one can accuse the pastor of preaching to the choir!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The game of football is a metaphor for the Christian life. The goal is to excel, to achieve spiritual maturity. Each player (quarterback, tight end, wide receiver, etc.) has his role to play, just as ministers, elders, deacons, etc. do. Each piece of equipment has its purpose (although I doubt the pastor was thinking of aspergillia, vimpae and crotali). God wants all of us to be on his team - to be champions. We can't just settle for sitting on the sidelines - we must be players! We must be ready when God calls us to get in the game. Christ gives us the power to overcome all obstacles, to get in there and play! The post-game championship banquet awaits us in heaven, but the best trophies of all will be the souls who saw Christ in us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The musical offerings (choir, piano, organ, vocal and instrumental soloists) were all of a high caliber...

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

...although the organist had an annoying habit of modulating the last verse of each hymn up a few steps – this made some of them, pitched high to begin with, unsingable. And at the beginning of the service, visitors were asked to stand and identify themselves, and were handed a microphone to help them do so. Then someone said, "Let's greet all our guests" followed by applause. I managed to keep my head down and avoid detection.

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

The pastor said, "In divinity school were taught that there are two things we should never preach on: politics and sports." And yet he continued his football metaphor into the final blessing. I had heard quite enough of football, and the fact that I was sitting in the back row facilitated a quick exit. The final hymn was listed in the bulletin as "Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus (please rise as you are able)" and it occurred to me that the words in parentheses would actually make a pretty good second line!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Coffee, iced tea and store-bought cookies were served in the fellowship hall during the interval between the conclusion of the earlier service and the start of this one. The iced tea was unsweetened and quite refreshing. There was a hospitality booth set up, plus booths staffed by the various church groups. I did not make a point of socializing, however.

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

7 – Good music, good preaching (or so I assume, when he's not talking football), and a sober approach to worship all count on the plus side.

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


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

The choir filing out just before the sermon.

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