The congregation was formed in 1894 and met in a local school. They purchased their present property in 1897 for the colossal sum of one dollar, and put up a small white frame edifice. That building was sold to the Seventh Day Adventists in 1920 and hauled away. The congregation again met in a local school while their present church was under construction. Dedicated in 1929, it is an attractive structure of brick and granite. But today’s service was held in the fellowship hall, a plain but comfortable room with a communion table backed by a large wooden cross and flanked by vases of flowers. Pulpit and lectern are to the right and left, respectively.
The church sponsors United Methodist Youth Fellowship (quoting from their website), ‘a place where teenagers feel safe, can make friends, and find opportunities to grow in their faith.’ For adults they have a study and discussion group, and a ‘friendship class’ for ‘Bible Study… potlucks and social outings.’ They also sponsor chapters of United Methodist Men and United Methodist Women. They stage regular visits to a local nursing home, ‘to come together as Christians and discuss our life together.’ Your guess is as good as mine regarding their service times – read on!
Glendale is the first suburb you come to as you travel west from Phoenix. The city sprawls for miles to the north with contemporary middle class housing communities, but the southernmost part consists of a quaint little downtown replete with antique shops, specialty boutiques, and eclectic restaurants, including a German restaurant with the improbable name of Haus Murphy. The church is on the northwestern edge of the downtown area.
The pastor led the service, assisted by a lay reader. The pastor wore a light green dress shirt, black tie with yellow polka-dots, and black slacks. A quartet of two elderly ladies and two elderly gents (one of whom was the pastor) provided the music.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Morning Worship.
How full was the building?
I counted 100 chairs and there were about 60 people present – almost all elderly. I saw six children, about two of whom more later. Many people entered from an inner door that appeared to lead to another room. Perhaps this was the ‘coffee and conversation’ that was listed on the banner outside the church – see below.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
When I finally found the fellowship hall as described below, I observed some people inside but all of the doors were locked save one, which bore a sign reading ‘Please don’t enter here.’ But someone inside, who I later learned was the pastor, spotted me and came and opened one of the doors. ‘C’mon in!’ he said, and pointed out another door that was unlocked which I hadn’t previously noticed. As more people entered, a few said ‘Good morning’ but most paid no attention to me.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a chair, and it was comfortable enough.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Their website, which hasn’t been updated for over a year, lists three services each Sunday: lay-led communion, traditional worship, and contemporary worship, as well as a Wednesday noonday service followed by lunch. However, I arrived to find everything locked up tight and no one in sight. A calendar posted near the door lists the same services, but the notice board lists a single service. A banner hung from a wall lists ‘8.30 Message and Communion; 9.30 Coffee and Conversation; 10.00 Open Worship with Children’s Bible Study; 11.00 Adult Study Group.’ Being in no mood to sit in my car and wait to see what would happen, I drove the short distance home and returned at 9.30 to find the doors still locked and the environs empty of people. I eventually wandered into the courtyard and found my way into the fellowship hall, where I was greeted as described above.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Well, good morning everybody, and welcome.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
United Methodist Hymnal and a service sheet. Everything was projected, though.
What musical instruments were played?
A Kurzweil digital piano and a Yamaha keyboard, played by two elderly ladies. There was also an acoustic guitar that I thought (hoped?) would go unused, but I was in for a surprise.
Did anything distract you?
Among the children were two little girls, one wearing cat ears and the other with her hair done in dreadlocks that were dyed green. I was also distracted by trying to calculate the median age of the congregation, but I wasn’t sure I could count that high.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a home-grown hymn sandwich: singing, reading, praying, preaching, announcements. The projection screens identified it as ‘8th Sunday of Kingdomtide’, but the service sheet listed it as ‘7th Sunday’ and misspelled Kingdomtide. The pastor picked up the guitar to join the two keyboard ladies in leading the opening song, a jaunty happy-clappy number, but the remaining songs leaned more toward the traditional. No communion.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 — The pastor spoke clearly and sincerely, but I think he was reading his sermon from sheets he had in front of him. He tried his best not to appear so.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was Genesis 28:10-19 (Jacob dreams of a stairway to heaven). Summer is almost over – that’s a challenge and a blessing. We’d just as soon forget the oppressive heat, travel delays, and the like, but we are also looking forward to things to come. As we move into a new season, important things will happen. Jacob never expected to encounter God while he slept. He expected to encounter him at his destination, not during the journey. We, too, never know when we will encounter God, and that’s a gift. God is with us every step of the way, not only in the easy steps but also in the uphill climb.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The pastor seemed to me to be someone sincerely grounded in his faith and completely at home with his calling. It was a joy to watch him conduct the service.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, if I have to fault anything it would be the music. Both keyboardists chose rather tubby, hooty sounding stops to accompany just about everything. I don’t know the Kurzweil, but I would be surprised if it didn’t include a deep, resonant organ stop that could have been used to good effect. To their credit, though, the stops they chose were appropriate during the quiet, meditative bits they played as the offering was being taken up. The vocalists – well, bless their souls, they gave it their all, but they sounded like what you would expect a quartet of elderly folks to sound like.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I snuck out during the closing hymn – I was in no mood to stick around.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I don’t think there was any. If the ‘coffee and conversation’ had indeed taken place pre-service, it was well hidden and I did not discover where it was being held.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 — Everyone seemed very much into the service and glad to be there, but I think it would be hard for a newcomer to break into the group, especially when conflicting service times are so broadly advertised. I am disillusioned with my present church and am looking around for a new one, but I don’t think First United Methodist will be on my short list. I also prefer a more tightly traditional liturgy and a congregation with a wider age spread.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
How hard it was to discover what was going on.