Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: Trinity Lutheran
Location: Litchfield Park, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 21 December 2014, 11:30am
An attractive modern concrete structure. The interior is pentagonal in shape, with beige walls and light brown carpeting. A large wooden cross hangs above the altar. Organ and piano are to the left. The church was decorated with Christmas trees, wreaths and poinsettias.
They run a very well respected school for grades 1 through 8. Their ministries include (among others) Bible study for all age groups; a care ministry that includes health services and hospital visits; and MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers), (quoting from their website) "a place to find friendship, community, resources and support for you as a woman and mother so you're not alone." There are five services each Sunday: three contemporary and two traditional, including an evening service.
Litchfield Park was founded in 1916 by Paul Weeks Litchfield, who would soon become president of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, as a site for Goodyear's extensive cotton farming operation in the area. (In those days cotton was an essential component of rubber tires.) Today, Litchfield Park is a rather high-end suburb of Phoenix that features upscale homes, well-manicured golf courses, and chic shopping centers. The church is located on Indian School Road at Dysart Road, an area of upper-middle class residential communities behind high brick walls, with a few strip malls thrown in for good measure.
The Revd Dave Bolte, senior pastor. The lady playing piano and leading the singing was not named, nor were the girl crucifer and boy acolyte (both in albs). Pastor Bolte wore a black shirt and black slacks with a tan sports jacket.
What was the name of the service?Traditional Service.
How full was the building?
I counted room for about 200 and there were eventually about 55 present - mostly middle aged men and women. I say eventually because hardly anyone entered until the moment the service was scheduled to start, and people kept trickling in right up through the readings.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman at the door said "Good morning" as he handed me an announcement bulletin.
Was your pew comfortable?
The padded wooden pew was OK.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The handful of people who were there early sat quietly for the most part; there was some quiet visiting. The lady playing piano doodled on the keys and sang a few numbers, none of which I recognized.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to worship."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Lutheran Worship and The Holy Bible, New International Version were in the pews but were not used, as everything was projected. Also in the pews was a card that read "Dear Pastor" with boxes to check off for I would like a phone call / visitation / prayer / advice, etc.
What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano. The organ, an electronic instrument, remained silent. The music consisted of traditional Christmas carols modified for gender-neutrality (e.g., in "It came upon a midnight clear" we sang "Peace on earth, good will to all"). I thought the pianist's accompaniment was a bit on the jaunty side, more like what you'd hear in a cocktail lounge than at a church service billed as traditional. I missed the organ bellowing out good classical harmonies with pedal and diapason.
Did anything distract you?
This was the Fourth Sunday of Advent and yet the whole service was Christmas themed: carols, readings, sermon, church decor. It left me wondering what they were planning to do for Christmas itself.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly standard traditional Lutheran service in the liturgical form we're pretty much accustomed to in the West. The language was quite modern, though - home-grown, I think, not from the Lutheran worship book. We sang the canticle "This is the feast of victory for our God" (in Advent!), and we recited the Apostles Creed, saying that we believe in the Holy Christian Church. At communion, the pastor made the Sign of the Cross over the elements as he pronounced the words of institution. As we went up to communion, we all remained standing at the rail until the eucharistic minister said, "Welcome to God's holy table," at which point we all knelt. After receiving the elements, we all remained in place until he said, "Your sins are forgiven," at which point we all stood and returned to our seats. (I would have thought that our sins would be forgiven before receiving communion, not after, but what do I know?) At the dismissal and blessing, the pastor again made the Sign of the Cross over us.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The pastor spoke clearly, referring to notes only now and then, and his message was well developed. He spoke very rapidly, though, hardly leaving time for his points to sink in.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The title "Lord Jesus Christ" is used more than any other title in the New Testament. It reminds us that Jesus is God, the second person of the Trinity. Jesus was fully God and fully man, as subject to the Ten Commandments as we are except that we break them and he kept them! The title "Christ," meaning anointed, signifies that God chose Jesus to do the work of salvation. It shows that God keeps his promises. The prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled in Bethlehem. This is good news - we could never be saved of our own accord, but Jesus has saved us through the redemptive act of his suffering, death and resurrection. Through Jesus, God has given us the gift of everlasting life.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I noticed a family walking back from communion: a little girl, a mid-sized girl, an older, taller girl, the mother, and the father carrying a babe in arms, all dressed in their Sunday best, all so cute! They reminded me of a set of Russian babushka dolls.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not very much, although at communion we had to kneel on the edge of the sanctuary platform - there was no cushion. Very hard on the knees - mine are still aching!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The pastor shook my hand and said it was nice that I had come today, but no one else paid me any attention.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee and pastries were served outside on the patio. The coffee was good; the pastries tasted day-old at best, probably older. Just as I was about to help myself to a paper napkin after eating and drinking, I noticed that everything was being packed up and put away. I grabbed a napkin just in time. Lutheran efficiency, I guess. I stood admiring a sculpture representing Calvary, and took some photos of it, but no one said anything to me.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – It's not the most unwelcoming church I've ever been in, but not the most welcoming either by a long shot! Given the large number of activities listed on their website, I'd expect them to show a little more interest in extending hospitality to a newcomer. I appreciated the attention given to celebrating the liturgy, but I'd want a stronger music program.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, but I wasn't expecting Christmas to be celebrated on the last Sunday of Advent.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The speed with which the after-service coffee and pastries were packed away.