St Patrick's, Scottsdale, AZ (Exterior)

St Patrick's, Scottsdale, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Patrick's
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 17 March 2013, 10:30am

The building

A modern structure dating from 2002, set in what is known in these parts as a desert landscape. The grounds feature the Stations of the Cross made out of stone slabs attached to boulders. Inside, one finds oneself in a huge narthex designed to serve as a social hall. Copper doors separate the narthex from the church proper. Immediately inside the doors are two baptismal fonts, one large tub-like font for adult baptism by immersion and a smaller font for infant baptism. The main auditorium is spacious, with pews surrounding the altar on three sides. The altar itself is oval, resembling a dining room table, and sits in front of a large Tiffany window. There is also a Blessed Sacrament chapel, a chapel for the celebration of daily mass, and "reconciliation chapels" (confessionals) brightly lit, relatively spacious closets where one may confess one's sins face-to-face with a priest or from behind a screen. A far cry from the dark boxes in which Miss Amanda was shriven of the peccadilloes of her youth!

The church

They appear to be a very active parish, with ministries and outreaches of all sorts, as listed on their website. I will mention only one: the parish nurse ministry, which includes information about various health issues in each Sunday's bulletin.

The neighborhood

Scottsdale is an affluent suburb to the east of Phoenix, notorious for two annoying features: (1) a highly restrictive sign ordinance that makes it virtually impossible to spot one's destination from a fast-moving car; and (2) the continued use of traffic enforcement cameras, one of the only remaining communities in the area still to do so. The church is located on 84th Street at Shea Boulevard amid exclusive walled residential enclaves, very near to the freeway known as the Loop 101 that encircles the Phoenix metropolitan area.

The cast

The Most Revd Eduardo Nevares, Auxiliary Bishop of Phoenix, was the celebrant. He was assisted by the Revd Mr John Meyer and the Revd Mr Jim Hoyt, deacons. The Revd Eric Tellez, pastor, attended in choir albeit in full eucharistic vestiture. Paul Hillebrand was in charge of the music. There were three acolytes in albs and cinctures and an assortment of athletic footwear. One of the acolytes showed bare legs beneath an alb that was at least a foot too short for him.

What was the name of the service?

Weekend Liturgy.

How full was the building?

Their website states that the sanctuary can hold 1200 people. It was completely full, with people standing along the sides and in the rear.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No. There were no ushers on duty and no handouts to be taken.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. There were padded pews as well as padded chairs; I chose a chair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very noisy as people visited and the musicians and choir rehearsed. The bishop arrived in black clerical suit and was given a quick tour of the sanctuary area.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning, everyone. Let's go over our songs for today." When that was done, a video was played featuring various members of the parish staff giving announcements.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

None. Everything was projected onto screens. There was no bulletin.

What musical instruments were played?

Piano, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, drums. I think there was also an Irish pennywhistle and a violin, or a good imitation of same on a digital synthesizer. There was a choir of about 25 people.

Did anything distract you?

The acolytes seemed unrehearsed and unsure of themselves. One of the deacons had to cue them via stage whispers and hand gestures as to where to stand, how to hold the book for the bishop, and what to do and when. There was also quite a bit of confusion at communion among the eucharistic ministers: who was to stand where holding what (chalice or ciborium).

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

It tried to be happy-clappy but dignity won the day, probably due to the fact that the bishop was present. The color was white, not purple, in keeping with the parish feast of title. The bishop wore a marvelous lace alb beneath his chasuble, although the deacons were vested more plainly. The bishop did quite a bit of chanting, including the collect, sursum corda, preface and per ipsum. But there were no bells or incense, not even at the elevation. We recited the Apostles' Creed, not the Nicene Creed. The music was a cross between contemporary Christian rock and Country & Western, with some old standbys ("What Wondrous Love", "Amazing Grace", "Tantum Ergo") given a modern makeover to blend in with the harder stuff. Unfortunately the modern makeover included a dumbing down of the text. For example, in "Amazing Grace" we sang of the sweet sound "that saved and set me free" instead of "that saved a wretch like me". There was a surprisingly generous sprinkling of Latin, such as "Miserere nobis" as the response to the intercessions.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

21 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

10 – Bishop Nevares spoke clearly and with conviction. His sermon was well planned and expertly delivered.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

God never tires of showing us mercy, although we sometimes tire of asking. Jesus revealed to us the face of God: rich in mercy, slow to anger, of great kindness. How quick we are to condemn others but how slow to examine ourselves. We are all sinners. Jesus came to call sinners. Mercy is the most important quality of a follower of Christ. We all go through terrible things in our lives, but think of how Jesus responded to all he endured: "Father, forgive them." Let God heal us. Let Christ be our example.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

This is not my style of worship, but I have to say that on balance it worked. The people certainly seemed very much into it. The singing was especially enthusiastic.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Someone needs to take responsibility for seeing to it that the acolytes are trained and rehearsed properly and that they pay the necessary attention to how they dress for service on the altar of God.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

As the bishop was recessing up the aisle, everybody pretty much made a mad scramble for the exits. A woman came up to me, welcomed me to St Patrick;s, and asked me if I was a reporter (she had been intrigued by my note-taking). I told her a bit about the Ship of Fools, and she in turn told me about a website she was involved with - something or other to do with one of the more improbable apparitions of the Blessed Mother.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

In honor of St Patrick's Day, a parish barbeque had been planned. I purchased a $5.00 ticket and joined the hungry throngs. We had our choice of hamburgers or hot dogs, with chips, lemonade and cookies. I chose a hamburger, and it was delicious. After receiving their food, people took it inside the parish hall, where large round tables had been set up. I chose an empty table to sit at, as it had been a long service and by that time I was interested only in eating and running.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

1 – I don't live in Scottsdale, but even if I did, this is really not my style of worship. However, I don't begrudge it to those who do enjoy 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 ?

How well the bishop preached, but also how short one of the acolytes' alb was.

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