A modern megachurch campus located on Phoenix's posh Central Avenue. The main building dates from 1980 and is the work of architect Ralph Burgess Haver, known for his dozens of private homes, schools, churches and commercial buildings in the Phoenix metropolitan area, all in the Mid-Century Modern style. (Alas, many of Haver's most famous structures, including the Capri Cinema, Coronado High School and Kon-Tiki Motel, have been demolished.) The interior was renovated in 2005 by Dick & Fritsche Design Group to provide for video projection and theatrical lighting and to create more of a sense of community within the space. Its a large, stadium-like interior, which was bathed in bluish-purple light for the occasion.
They sponsor all the usual groups and activities commonly found in large evangelical churches. See their website for further details. Special mention goes to Career Connectors, a monthly mixer that pairs people looking for work with businesses looking to hire. There are two services each Sunday, one classic and one modern.
Central Avenue is Phoenix's main business drag. Its upper reaches are lined with posh homes on large woodsy lots. North Phoenix Baptist Church, at the corner of Central Avenue and Bethany Home Road, has made itself at home among the latter.
The Revd Scott Savage, pastor of spiritual formation; the Revd Shane Copeland, pastor of St George's Anglican Community, Phoenix; the Revd John H. Dyson, Jr., pastor of Desert Mission Anglican Church, Phoenix.
What was the name of the service?Ash Wednesday: A Multi-Church Gathering.
How full was the building?
The auditorium seats about 3000, although the uppermost balconies were cordoned off by a curtain. Those sections that were open were about seven-eights full. It was a predominantly young crowd, many teenagers, many young families, some older folks.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman standing outside the door said, "Hi, there! Welcome!" and handed me a program.
Was your pew comfortable?
Theater-style chairs - very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People visited but it wasn't overly noisy. Tuneless, music-like sounds were playing over the PA system.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening. Let's stand together."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None other than the program. Everything was projected.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, acoustic guitar, electric bass guitar, drums. The guitarist and a female vocalist sang.
Did anything distract you?
Several young men seemed not to know that gentlemen remove their hats in church, as they wore their baseball caps throughout the service. A young man next to me sang with a voice that can only be described as a yodel.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very upbeat but I wouldn't call it happy clappy. The music was of the Christian rock variety, but thankfully there were only three songs (I'll have more to say about the third song later). The readings were Joel 2:12-17 (fast and do penance); James 4:1-10 (do not be friends with the world, but rather with God), and Matthew 6:16-21 (do not make a show of penance). We stood for the gospel reading. We recited the Apostles Creed, saying that we believe in the holy catholic (small c) Church (big C). We were asked to kneel on the bare floor as we were invited to observe Lent and for the confession of sin. Ashes were imposed with the words "A blessing and a reminder that we begin this life in ashes and we return to ashes, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Communion was ministered in the form of matzoh cracker fragments intincted in grape juice (I'll have more to say about communion in a moment).
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – I thought that Pastor Scott spoke very well. I fault him only on his saying that he knows that people hate to hear stories about other people's children, and then telling a story about one of his own children. It is an all-too-common misconception among parents that other people are as interested in their children as they are.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Life is full of confusing combinations. For example, here we are observing Ash Wednesday in a Baptist church! The gospel reading told us not to disfigure our faces with signs of fasting and penance, but we are about to do just that! But it's the purpose that counts, not the act. Worship can be corrupted. What do we want to gain, and what do we expect to achieve, by acts of penance? Only God's opinion matters, not what others think of us. Fasting and penance enable us to grab hold of God and see him differently. Lent is a preparation that will take us to the greatest celebration ever to happen - one that changed everything.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Some of the remarks made about ecumenism were truly heavenly, such as different denominations coming together to share what we have in common, namely Jesus, and that the Lord's table is a table set for all, not just for Baptists or Anglicans.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But I have to fault a remark that the Revd Shane Copeland made as he pronounced the words of institution over the communion elements. He said that we in the Protestant tradition believe that the bread and wine are reminders of Christ's sacrifice, but (and he actually smirked as he said the following) that we most definitely do NOT believe that they are the actual body and blood of Christ! It really put me off the rest of the service, and my reaction had been positive up until then. Indeed, communion was administered with the words "A reminder of the body of Christ, broken for you" and "A reminder of the blood of Christ, shed for you."
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The program stated that after communion there would be words about "the road to Easter", the Lord's Prayer, and a blessing. But I was so put off by Shane Copeland's remarks that I contemplated leaving after receiving communion. When the musicians struck up their third number, which was the most hideous setting of "When I survey the wondrous Cross" that I have ever heard, I did indeed leave.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – Since the evening was so full of reminders, I reminded myself that Christ is indeed truly present in the eucharist, and that I shall not be visiting this church again - or most assuredly, at least not Shane Copelands church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, up until communion.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Receiving communion that had in no uncertain terms been declared NOT to be the body and blood of Christ.