Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: Mt Zion Lutheran
Location: Peoria, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 6 January 2019, 9:00am
From the street one sees a low flat building with an arched portico – doesn’t look like a church at all! In fact it isn’t – it’s their education building. The church itself is around the corner: another low flat building that doesn’t look like a church either. Inside, one finds a gray painted room with tan wooden highlights. A very simple altar is flanked by a baptismal font and pulpit, plus chairs for the altar party. It’s all very tastefully done. Just opposite their property, though, is a Korean Presbyterian church that is much more interesting architecturally.
Quoting from their website, they are dedicated to 'reaching out to … those who have not yet heard of Christ as well as those who are not active in a Christian congregation.' I didn’t get the impression that they have very many groups other than a youth group, altar guild, choir, and a group called Mountain Climbers (which, despite its name, seems to be a sort of ladies’ auxiliary dedicated to serving the church in a variety of ways). There is one service each Sunday.
I’ve described Peoria in other reports as a sprawling northwestern suburb of Phoenix. The church is located decidedly within the sprawl – on Deer Valley Road at 89th Avenue. Thirty years ago, neither Phoenix nor its suburbs extended this far north, but today the area is well populated, featuring upper middle class homes tailored to large families. Nearby is the wonderfully named Lake Pleasant Regional Park, a major recreational attraction in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Some say the lake is cursed, as it has seen a disproportionately large number of drownings, boating accidents, and other mishaps over the years.
The pastor, vested in alb, cincture and white stole, was assisted by an acolyte in white alb but wearing sneakers. Readers of Miss Amanda’s reports know what her standards are in altar footwear, and she’s afraid that this young man didn’t measure up.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Worship.
How full was the building?
I counted about 150 chairs and they were about three-quarters occupied. Mainly an elderly crowd. No children that I could see.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
And then some! Outside, while I was taking pictures, a lady getting out of her car said, ‘How are you?’ Inside, a gentleman said, ‘Was that you taking pictures?’ The lady staffing the greeting desk said, ‘I don’t think I know you’ and introduced herself. We chatted a bit. Once I had sat down, several people shook my hand and said ‘Good morning,’ ‘Welcome,’ ‘Happy New Year,’ and other such things. One gentleman said, ‘Was that you driving the [and then he described the Amandamobile]?’ A very perspicacious congregation, I thought. My seatmate was especially chatty while I was trying to write down my impressions, but he seemed a lovely gentleman and meant well. Concerning him, I was in for a very big surprise – but more about that later!
Was your pew comfortable?
Conference room style chair. Comfortable enough. Some had arms, some didn’t – mine did.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet visiting and greeting. The organist played some twiddly bits and then segued into improvisations on various Christmas carols. I thought at first that it was a recording, as the sound was a bit tubby, but then I looked around and spotted the organ console. I’ll write the tubby sound off to some unfortunate choices of registration, as the organist was quite competent for the most part.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
From the pastor: ‘Good morning. You’re going to have to excuse my voice, as I have a sore throat.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None – only a program handout. Words to the hymns were included in the handout, but not the tunes. There were references to the Lutheran Service Book but I saw no books anywhere.
What musical instruments were played?
Electronic organ, very competently played. A grand piano remained silent.
Did anything distract you?
There were two stained glass windows over the altar. One depicted a snake wrapped around a cross, and the other depicted a cross on which was superimposed a yellow globe with a horizontal bar through it. I wondered what the symbolism was. OK, the snake I understand, but why wrapped around the cross? And what did the yellow globe with the horizontal bar represent? To me, that is the universal traffic sign for ‘Do Not Enter.’ Were the two windows somehow meant to be a reference to the serpent tempting Eve to help herself to forbidden fruit?
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A very straightforward Liturgy of the Word (there was no communion today – they have communion twice each month). The pastor, sore throat notwithstanding, gave all the readings himself – there were no lay readers. The hymns were all traditional – three carols, two of which I didn’t know (I could have used the Lutheran Service Book), and ‘O God Our Help in Ages Past.’ In the Apostles Creed we said that we believe in ‘the holy Christian church.’
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 — The pastor leaned on the pulpit like a school principal lecturing a naughty class, but his tone was not at all scolding. I thought he spoke a little too rapidly, though, and I missed quite a few of his words.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Epiphany. Three Wise Men. Why not Three Wise Women? They would have had the good sense to ask for directions, and they would have brought the Holy Family a casserole (which would prove that they were Lutheran!). We don’t know who the Magi were, but they did in fact ask directions – and found them in scripture! And their gifts were much more than a casserole: gold, representing the kingship of Christ; frankincense, representing his priesthood; and myrrh, representing the sacrifice that he would make. In fact, their gifts were worship. The Magi were not worshipping a baby – they knew that they were worshipping God. Jesus was the only person who ever chose to be born knowing that he would be sacrificed for us. All too often we look down, preoccupied with our troubles. But the Magi looked up to the star, which they followed with complete faith and trust. It’s time to put away the things of Christmas now, but don’t put away the message of Christmas. Jesus is our King, our Priest, our Savior. Give him the very best you have!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I did something that I haven’t done for a very long time – I wrapped my Mystery Worship calling card in a $20 bill before putting it in the plate. The very best I had.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Part of the intercessions was a litany of parishioners suffering from all kinds of unspeakable maladies. I won’t report them all here, as lunchtime is soon and I’d really rather forget them, but I will mention the gentleman whose heart is pumping at only 30 per cent capacity, and the woman who went to the hospital with a stomach ache and discovered she had a burst appendix and perforated bowel.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
My seatmate gave me his card and said that I could call him if I had any questions about Lutheranism. Looking at his card, I discovered that he was president emeritus of the Missouri District of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. What a surprise! The pastor walked to the back of the church and prepared himself to greet his congregation. He had said earlier that we shouldn’t shake his hand because of his sore throat. I really didn’t feel like telling him that for a person with a sore throat he managed to ramble on in the announcements and sermon. No ‘coughing drowns the parson’s saw’ here, as Shakespeare would have said. So I exited through another door.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None had been announced, and I didn’t smell any brewing.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 — I liked their no-nonsense approach to liturgy and the traditional music led by an organist who clearly knows her instrument. The people seemed friendly without being pushy. I’d have no problem with making a return visit, although the Missouri Synod is a bit too conservative in their beliefs for my taste.
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 two windows representing (I think) the temptation of Eve.