Worship & Word Peoria AZ

Worship & Word, Peoria, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Worship & Word
Location: Peoria, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 27 March 2011, 11:00am

The building

A large modern building that the church has occupied since 2006, having previously met elsewhere, including for a short time in the pastor's home. The interior is long and narrow, with light brown walls, brown carpeting, and chairs arranged around a platform. It seemed as though it were the lobby to a larger space - which was indeed the case, as through glass doors could be seen a much larger room that had been gutted and was in the process of being rebuilt.

The church

They conduct ministries for children, youth, men and women, with a special emphasis on families. Of special note is Project Rescue, for people with anger management, self-esteem and substance abuse problems. There are English and Spanish services each Sunday, plus a Wednesday evening and Friday youth service.

The neighborhood

Peoria is a suburb of Phoenix that mushrooms out from a small downtown area into neighborhoods of middle class housing and shopping centers. The downtown is a bit seedy but features some interesting architectural holdovers from years gone by. Worship & Word is located on Grand Avenue, the main thoroughfare connecting Phoenix with its northwest suburbs, becoming US Route 60 as it continues on toward Nevada. Movie buffs will recall that in Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller Psycho, the opening scene of which is set in Phoenix, Marion Crane heads out of town on Grand Avenue after stealing the bank deposit. The tracks of the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railroad run parallel to most of the avenue, and passing trains are notorious for wreaking havoc with the flow of traffic at intersecting streets.

The cast

The Revd Stacey L. Wiley, pastor. Pastor Wiley wore a dark blue pin-striped suit with a light blue shirt and blue tie. A guest speaker, "Brother Brown", wore a grey suit, black shirt, and dark grey patterned tie.

What was the name of the service?

Worship Service.

How full was the building?

About 150 or so chairs had been set out, and the room was full, with several people standing along the walls. The congregation were mostly young and middle aged adult couples, many with families in tow.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A gentleman shook my hand, said "Welcome," and directed me inside. He asked what my regular church was and if I had ever been to a Pentecostal service before. "We like to shout to God," he told me. During the "intermission" that preceded the service (see below), a gentleman named Paul introduced himself to me and shook my hand. Several other people said hello.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes, the red cushioned chair was very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

"Sunday school" was in session. I use quotes because what was happening was that about 50 or so people were listening to a guest speaker, who was later identified only as Brother Brown, indulge in sort of a stream-of-consciousness meditation in a voice that sounded like he was crying. His general theme, so far as I could make out, was that we should seek God, who will bring healing. When he had finished, Pastor Wiley said that there would be a ten-minute intermission during which people should "find a place to kneel and pray." The lights were dimmed and several people knelt on the floor, facing backward, leaning their elbows on the chairs, praying in a sort of wailing babble that I guess is what is meant by "speaking in tongues." Other people walked about quietly visiting with others.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"I don't know about you, but I'm excited to be in the house of God." This by Pastor Wiley.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

None. Pastor Wiley read from the King James Bible and most people had brought Bibles with them. Words to the songs were projected onto a screen.

What musical instruments were played?

Electronic keyboard, two guitars, drums. There was also a choir of five women and one man.

Did anything distract you?

I had taken a seat in the back by the exit, and throughout the service there was a constant stream of people going in and out past my seat for whatever reason. During the prayers and sermon, several people raised one hand as if waiting to be called on by the teacher at school. Whenever anyone said "Holy Ghost" they emphasized the first word: "HOLY Ghost", as if other kinds of ghosts might be present.

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

As happy clappy as I'm ever going to see. The service opened with several "contemporary lite" Christian songs that began quietly and built to a climax. Pastor Wiley then commented on the songs and asked for prayers for people with various needs. The prayers took the form of "We pray that God would cast sickness out of Sister Elaine" and that sort of thing. He then read a series of announcements in the style of "On Wednesday night – say 'Wednesday night', everybody" (to which request all complied). More music followed, an offering was received, and a children's group presented what seemed to be an interpretive dance to a musical recording. All prayers were accompanied by howling, wailing, arm waving and speaking in tongues on the part of the congregation. The sermon followed, punctuated with shouts of "Yes", "That's right", "Glory", "I know it, brother" and the like. The service concluded with an altar call.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

45 minutes.

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

6 – "I do not plan to be long, but you've heard that before," Pastor Wiley said. His style was Bible-thumping evangelistic, alternating between whispers and shouts and complete with over-emphasis on the last syllable of each word. At one point he was shouting so loudly and had turned so red that I thought he was going to explode!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Pastor Wiley's text was Mark 1:14-19 (Jesus calls his first disciples). It's easy for us to think that we're better than those who don't know God, but that's not true! We need God! Everyone deserves the opportunity to know him. The disciples heard the call of God and had to make a decision then and there to follow Jesus. We, too, must put our past behind us and decide just how important God is in our lives. Remember how good baptism felt. If we keep looking back, we'll never see what's before us. No one will get to heaven by accident - rather, we'll get there on purpose!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Despite the shouting and Bible thumping, I did find the sermon to be inspiring. The pastor said several things that were unintentionally funny - for example, in talking about how renovations to the space were progressing along, he said, "All the plumbing has been hooked up in the ladies' room - praise the Lord!" As the offering was being received, the choir sang a number called "Give and it will come back to you."

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

All the wailing and moaning and babbling was just too much, I thought. If that's what "speaking in tongues" is, then it's not for me. At the altar call, a father in the row in front of me took his son of about seven or eight years old by the hand and literally dragged him forward, the boy all the time pleading by look and gesture for him not to do it. No one at the altar call was slain in the spirit, but several people were trembling as if on the verge of going into convulsions.

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

I thought it best to slip out quietly during the altar call.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

None had been prepared so far as I could tell. No announcement had been made and I smelled no coffee a-brewing.

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

1 – This kind of worship is not my style.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

No. I can't imagine this is what Jesus meant when he said, "Come, follow me."

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The babbling and wailing.

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