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997: All Saints, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
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All Saints, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: All Saints, Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: Located at 6300 North Central Avenue, in Arizona's capital city, the church is a large modern concrete structure, unremarkable in its architecture. The interior is light beige, with dark red tile flooring and mahogany pews. Modern, slender stained glass windows give the interior a warm, reddish hue. Atop four sanctuary steps is located a marble altar, behind which is a large stained glass window depicting a crucifix shading a sunburst, with various items of tat scattered throughout: I made out a mitre, crosier, thurible, and aspergil. On the day of my visit, the center aisle was lined with potted ficus trees in which were suspended gaudily painted birdhouses (about which more later).
The church: All Saints is especially noted for its excellent day school, strong music program, and active ecumenical outreach. It sponsors a rabbi in residence who regularly preaches at church services. The retired Bishop of Rochester, New York, the Rt Rev. William G. Burrill, is also in residence. The church supports numerous religious and social groups, including youth ministry, MOMS (Ministry of Mothers Sharing), a singles group, a bridge players' group, SAGES (Senior Adult Growth and Enrichment Society), and a fine dining group.
The neighborhood: Located in the warm desert southwest, Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the United States and a popular retirement and winter vacation destination. North Central Avenue is an affluent residential neighborhood of large houses on nicely landscaped lots.
The cast: The Rev. Peter F. Walsh, rector, was the celebrant; the Rev. Dean K. Lierle served as deacon; Bishop Burrill was the preacher. Mr Scott Youngs was director of music. In homage to Samuel Seabury, the Mesa Caledonian Pipe Band played a significant role in the service.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist, Last Sunday after Pentecost and Commemoration of Samuel Seabury, First American Bishop.

How full was the building?
The church holds about 450 people and was completely full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. Outside the church were some tables on which various craft items were being sold, including more of the gaudy birdhouses that graced the ficus trees inside the church – all proceeds destined for charity. Among the tables was a greeters' table, staffed by a gentleman who appeared to limit his compliments to people he recognized. I browsed the craft items for several minutes but no one said anything to me.

Was your pew comfortable?

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Some quiet visiting but not overly distracting. Both an organ prelude and choral anthem were offered.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." A very lengthy entrance procession was led by an elderly verger in a royal blue gown who looked like Laurence Olivier, followed by the crucifer, acolytes, servers, the Mesa Caledonian Pipe Band, the choir, lectors, eucharistic ministers and clergy. The crucifer, acolytes, and servers were vested in albs and cinctures, the choir in cassocks and surplices, the lectors and eucharistic ministers in burgundy gowns. The pipe band wore kilts.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The 1979 Prayer Book and 1982 Hymnal were available in the pews, but almost everything needed for the mass was contained in a service leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?
A large pipe organ, well voiced, in tune, and well played. Bagpipes and drums were also played by the pipe band. There was a 30 voice choir which was excellent.

Did anything distract you?
The ficus trees with their birdhouses were most distracting. Bishop Burrill referred to them in his sermon as Dunsinane Wood (I think he meant to say Burnam Wood).

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a typical low Episcopalian rite II mass. Congregational participation was intense, although the peace ceremony was rather tame. The pipe band figured prominently in both the processional and recessional, and accompanied the offertory hymn, which was "Amazing Grace" – a hymn that I have trouble getting through without sobbing. The choir offered several anthems during communion.

All Saints, Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Exactly how long was the sermon?
16 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Bishop Burrill's style was that of a stand-up comedian, with the expected response from the audience (oops, I mean congregation). This enabled him to establish excellent rapport, and when he became serious he drilled his points home with unerring aim.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Bishop Burrill spoke about the importance of Samuel Seabury to the church, and also about the role of bishops. He began with a brief sketch of Seabury's life. After the American Revolution, Seabury could not be consecrated in England and so had to travel to Scotland to receive the laying on of hands. He was instrumental in unifying the early American church and in formulating the first American prayer book, the 1789 Book of Common Prayer. The episcopacy is a gift from God to the church. Bishops are a symbol of church unity. Unity is the goal of the Christian faith. All of humanity is called to be reconciled to unity with God. The breaking of bread is a strong unifying force – that is how the apostles recognized the risen Christ.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The pipe band played in perfect tune, belying all the horror stories one hears about bagpipes played indoors. Among the anthems that the choir offered at communion were the hauntingly beautiful O Sacrum Convivium by James Biery, and Craig Courtney's "Be Still My Soul" (to the tune of the concluding theme from Finlandia), both of which had me at the point of tears.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The family sitting in the pew behind me chatted incessantly during communion, apparently oblivious to the miracle being worked by the choir. The congregation sang only two hymns – the aforementioned "Amazing Grace" and "A Mighty Fortress". The latter was done without the customary fermatas at the end of each phase, which left me gasping for breath.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was completely ignored.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Weak, flavorless coffee served in styrofoam cups. There were, however, several kinds of cookies set out, which were delicious. Fruit punch was also available, which I didn't sample.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I intend to retire to Phoenix, and when I do I will consider this church among others. The congregation seemed very friendly amongst themselves, even if not to a stranger; the liturgy was conducted with dignity; and the church maintains an active presence in the community.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It was one of the most inspiring services I have attended in a very long time in any church.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
All of the above, especially the Biery O Sacrum Convivium. But it's going to take me a while to put those ficus trees and birdhouses out of my mind.
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