Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: Glendale Seventh Day Adventist
Location: Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 15 January 2022, 11:00am
Photo: Google Earth One of the oddest looking buildings I’ve ever seen – tall, narrow, jutting. I didn’t get a good view of the interior from the video feed, but the pastor conducted the service standing in front of several rows of empty choir chairs.
They appear to be a very active congregation, with men’s breakfast once every other month, ladies’ dine-out, Sabbath school, Bible study, prayer meeting and the like. They sponsor the Glenview Adventist Academy, (quoting from their website) ‘a private accredited elementary school … [whose] mission … is to develop independent learners into Christ-centered leaders.’ There is a contemporary service and a traditional service each Saturday, both live and live-streamed. I found their mask policy interesting: (quoting from their website) ‘Face masks and social distancing are no longer required ... The back three rows in the sanctuary will be set aside for those who wish to continue to mask and social distance … If you see someone wearing a mask, provide them the courtesy of maintaining social distancing.’ Did somebody say pariah?
Although their name says Glendale, they are actually in Phoenix at 43rd Avenue and Glendale Avenue, not far from the border with the neighboring Glendale suburb. It’s a fairly plebeian neighborhood consisting of apartment houses, working class single family dwellings, and a variety of strip malls and fast food joints.
No one was identified, and I could find no mention of clergy or staff on their website. There was a gentleman nattily dressed in grey suit and tie, and another rather burly gentleman dressed in an untucked pink sports shirt and charcoal slacks. I assume they were the pastor and associate pastor. There was also an organist and a pianist. Interestingly, the pianist was properly masked, but the pastors and organist were not.
What was the name of the service?Traditional Service.
How full was the building?
There were people present, but I have no idea how many.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Was your pew comfortable?
My desk chair was its usual comfortable self.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The on-line feed began with a quiet organ prelude. There were some shots of the organist, but the feed consisted mostly of the camera focused on a dark blue hanging of some sort.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Good morning. Happy Sabbath.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Everything was projected, but I don’t know if there were any books in the pews.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, a large electronic instrument (I couldn’t see the make, but it may be a Rodgers), and grand piano, a Yamaha.
Did anything distract you?
I kept wondering how many people were present in church, and how many of them were relegated to the back three rows of pews.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A hymn sandwich. After the pastor’s greeting, the service opened with that old chestnut ‘Leaning On the Everlasting Arms.’ The burly pink-shirted gentleman then read some announcements. After that, the pastor read a call to worship, followed by the doxology. Then some more old chestnut hymns. Prayer requests followed. The offering was prefaced by the exhortation ‘Give until it heals!’ and the pianist played a solo while the congregation was busy healing – oops, I mean giving their offerings – and when he was finished, he got up and left. The pink-shirted gentleman then said a prayer and preached the sermon. After that, the pastor led everyone in singing a final blessing and the congregation were ‘ushered out’ to an organ postlude.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 — I thought the preacher rambled quite a bit at first, and I wondered what his point would be. But then he tied all that rambling into his message, and it all became crystal clear. He spoke plainly and at a pace easy to follow and understand. But they say that every good sermon has three exit paths, and that the preacher should always take the first. At about the 30-minute mark, the preacher sailed on by the first exit path and continued on for another 12 minutes without (I thought) adding any more substance to his message.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was John 3:16 ('God so loved the world ...’). What does sacrifice mean? It means placing value on something or someone. The preacher then described a variety of chores he had given his children so that they could earn money and develop a work ethic; he observed that they guarded and cherished the various items they had purchased with their earnings. He also described how his parents had insisted that they be spoken to and treated with respect, not in the same way he related to his friends. Finally, he spoke of an expensive painting that he had saved money to buy, and how carefully he had carried it home and hung it on his wall. All of those illustrations show the meaning of value. And how much more does God value us – he gave up his most valuable treasure, his Son, for us. But what happened to Jesus after the sacrifice was made? He offered his life, but then he ascended to his Father to ensure that the sacrifice was enough – was perfect. It is preposterous to think that our children would sacrifice their lives for the sake of someone else – but that’s exactly what God had his Son do. Now that was a sacrifice! God’s sacrifice placed incredible value on our lives. There is so much fear in the world today, but just as we care for something for which we have sacrificed – so will God! He will take care of us right to the end! All that he asks is that we stay with him – that we acknowledge his sacrifice.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I haven’t heard ‘Leaning On the Everlasting Arms’ for quite some time, and hearing that and the other fine old chestnut hymns was a treat.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was really surprised by their mask policy. And I thought Seventh Day Adventists were into health big time. Relegating to the back three rows those who would follow the guidelines re masking and social distancing, especially now that infections appear to be raging out of control, seems to me to be – I hardly know the word to use - unhealthful at best.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing – the video feed ended and I prepared my report.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I fixed myself some lunch.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 — Despite what I took to be shortcomings, mentioned above, I really did appreciate the dignity and seriousness put into it. I might stop by in person some Saturday (I almost said Sunday!) to see how they do things in person, but I’m afraid I would be one of those masked creatures relegated to the back pews. Oh, well, that’s where us Mystery Worshippers are supposed to sit, isn’t it?
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
‘Leaning On the Everlasting Arms.’