The church is four years old and built in the adobe pueblo style of the Southwest. The sanctuary is pleasingly simple. The altar area is backed by a wood wall and cross, lighted indirectly by a skylight. On both sides of the altar area are screens on which the texts and songs of the service (with notes) were projected.
The congregation was started in 1995 and their present building was completed in 2008. There had been various provisional meeting places: the basement of a Baptist church, a conference room of a hotel, and a mortuary. Another meeting place had as a reference point: "We meet near a liquor store." Among the activities listed in the newsletter are a weekly Bible study, youth guitar class, youth scholarship meeting, quilting, labels and box-tops for Lutheran Navajo Mission, a prayer shawl ministry, new members' class and a holiday bazaar. The pastor and 20 young people of the congregation had just participated in social service and charity projects in San Diego.
The city of St George was named after George A. Smith, a Mormon apostle who urged early settlers to eat raw, unpeeled potatoes to cure scurvy; he was referred to as the Potato Saint. St George was also the winter home of Mormon pioneer Brigham Young, who in his later years did not want to endure the winters of Salt Lake City. Under Young's guidance, settlers cultivated cotton, sugar, grapes, tobacco, figs, almonds, olive oil and other items. They also planted mulberry trees to produce silk. St George boasts the oldest existing Mormon temple, completed in 1877. Today the area is popular with retireees due to its warm climate, and is a gateway to spectacular national parks (Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon), which was my reason for being there. The church is located in a residential retirement district. About half of the worshippers appeared to be people of retirement age.
The Revd Jill Doherty celebrated and preached. Her husband, the Revd Joe Doherty, made announcements. The worship assistant was Alisann Poutinen. The music team was led by Matt Wilkes and Jasmine Candland.
What was the name of the service?Summer Sunday Worship.
How full was the building?
About 90 per cent full, approximately 150 to 160 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two greeters welcomed visitors with a "Good morning" and a handshake.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
At about ten minutes before the service there was meditative guitar music, followed by organ preludes. The worshippers entered quietly. On the screens there was introductory information.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be the Holy Trinity, one God, who gives us a new birth into a living hope, who raises us with Christ from death, who fills us with the Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books. All the prayers, liturgical texts, readings and songs (with melody notes) were projected onto the two screens.
What musical instruments were played?
Electronic organ, grand piano, guitar, violin.
Did anything distract you?
This service was so efficiently carried out and the congregation so quietly reverential that the only distractions were in my head. When the celebrant spoke the words of absolution following the confession, she did not follow the words in the bulletin: "Christ suffered for sins once for all ..." Rather, she said: "Christ suffered for all ..." I wondered if this was a slip of the tongue or whether she had theological reasons for leaving out "for sins." This opened a train of thought that occupied me until the sermon, when it became apparent that she has no problems with "for sins."
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was liturgical, with contemporary music, containing almost all the elements of the Lutheran service. However, there was no creed and no Sanctus. The congregational singing was, at times, so quiet that the music team was virtually singing on behalf of the congregation. This is obviously not what Martin Luther intended when he introduced a "singing church." The gospel was read by the assisting minister, a lay person, which is something I appreciate because it expresses the "priesthood of all believers." There was a children's sermon, the children sitting on the altar steps around the celebrant.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The Revd Jill Doherty spoke lucidly and cohesively. The sermon contained thoughtful biblical interpretation and was well-crafted. She was easy to listen to and had something to say that was worth hearing.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based on this Sunday's gospel reading in John regarding the feeding of the five thousand. When leftovers occur at a family meal, it's because there was either too much food or it was not good enough. But with Jesus, leftovers are intentional, revealing his overwhelming generosity, the "wow-factor." Jesus' abundant giving reveals the extravagance of God, who not only gives us what we need but ultimately gives us himself, revealing his true identity in Jesus and establishing a relationship with us. Jesus' most extravagant gift was the pouring out of his blood for the sins of the world. Life in Jesus is life abundant.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I appreciated that I did not have to turn pages in a hymn book quickly in order to participate in the liturgy, which has been a customary characteristic of Lutheran services. Since everything was on the screens, it was easy to participate in the service. I found that heavenly.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
St George in July! It has an average temperature of 100°F (38°C). On the Saturday before the service it reached a scorching 104°. In this heat one has the feeling of being baked alive in an open-air oven. I dreaded going out of the air-conditioned church into this fire, which makes the fires of Gehenna seem more realistic.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Almost immediately a couple came up to us, introduced themselves, and engaged us in conversation. Wherever I explain that I am a visitor on vacation, I am invariably asked, "How long are you going to be here?" I appreciate small-talk, but I wonder why this question is so inevitable. At the after-service coffee we were approached by several people who introduced themselves and engaged in conversation. In that regard, this was one of the friendliest congregations I have encountered.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee was good and strong, served in real cups. The congregation sell free-trade coffee. The home-made blueberry muffins were delicious.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I immediately felt at home in the service and with the husband and wife pastors. I am also comfortable with the theology of the ELCA. The congregation is friendly and has a lot to offer. But, according to what I was told, traditional hymns are never sung in the service. This would be a reason for me to be hesitant about becoming a member of this congregation.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, indeed. It felt good to be in a full church, celebrating a worship service that expressed sound theological content.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
This friendly Lutheran church was like an oasis in this desert country.