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2867: Trinity United Methodist Rays of Hope, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Trinity UMC, Phoenix, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Gloria Day.
The church: Trinity United Methodist Rays of Hope, Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: United Methodist Church.
The building: A plain windowless whitewashed brick structure. Inside is a pleasant room with grey brick walls and a large stage in front. On the stage were a white baby grand piano, the organ console, and a large wooden cross draped in red and white. A communion table set with candles, bread and chalices stood in front of the stage.
The church: They sponsor a vacation Bible school and are also planning a mission outreach to the Navajo Nation. They put on a monthly men’s breakfast and have adult Bible study and prayer groups. For young children they offer Read to Me, (quoting from their website) “a strong and lively program that … encourages literacy through positive one-on-one interactions.” They also sponsor Hope’s Cupboard, donating groceries to needy families. There are three services each Sunday: traditional, contemporary, and a bilingual English-Tongan service.
The neighborhood: The church is located on Glendale Avenue at 31st Avenue, a working class but clean-scrubbed residential area. Next door is a Baptist church with narrow slotted windows that make it look like a jail.
The cast: The Revd Stephen Govett, senior pastor, led the service and preached. Nancy Truscott read the call to worship. Carol Hill, organist and pianist, served in that capacity.
The date & time: Sunday, May 31, 2015, 9.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Traditional Service.

How full was the building?
There was room for about 300 and I counted about 50 – mostly elderly, mostly women.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady standing at the door said, “Hello. I’m Nancy. Good to have you here.” Inside, a gentleman said hello and shook my hand as he gave me the order of service. Several others welcomed me also. One lady came up to me and said, “Hello. I’m Carol. Are you new here?” whereupon a lady sitting in front of me turned around and said, “She’s the piano player.” That lady later introduced herself as Debbie.

Was your pew comfortable?
Comfortable enough – standard upholstered pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of loud visiting. Piano music was playing over the PA system.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Good morning. Welcome. We’re glad you’re here.”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The United Methodist Hymnal, both in regular and large-print editions (the large-print edition being words only); The Faith We Sing; The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version; program with announcements tucked inside.

What musical instruments were played?
The aforementioned white baby grand piano and electronic organ. There was also a choir of about 17 voices.

Trinity UMC, Phoenix, AZ (Choir)

Did anything distract you?
I confess that when I saw the white baby grand, I expected Liberace to come descending from the clouds in jeweled splendor. Also, the program contained sections entitled “Honoring Promotions and Graduations” and “Blessing of the Graduates.” Oh, Lordy, how did I end up at a school commencement service? I thought to myself. But there were only four graduates, as it turned out, only two of whom were present. Not that it mattered any – read on!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Not stiff, but not happy-clappy either. After an opening prayer and choir anthem (after which the choir exited the sanctuary), the graduates were prayed over and presented with a gift bag (after which they, too, left the sanctuary!). There was a scripture reading (Jeremiah 29:11-13 – God has plans for us), sermon, and communion. At communion the pastor broke morsels of bread off a loaf for us, which we then dipped in a chalice of grape juice.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
23 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – Someone once said that every sermon has multiple exit paths and that the preacher should take the first one. Pastor Govett’s sermon illustrated this truth brilliantly. As mentioned above, the graduates (the two graduates present of the four listed in the program) got up and left the church as soon as we were finished praying over them, but the pastor delivered his graduation address – oops, I mean sermon – as if a class of hundreds were present. To his credit, he spoke clearly and barely glanced at his notes. I’ll note possible exit paths in the summary below.

Trinity UMC, Phoenix, AZ (Preacher)

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Shortly after the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center were finished, a certain acrobat decided that he would walk a tight-rope between the two buildings. It took him eight years to plan his feat, and when the day finally came to execute it he set out hesitatingly, not knowing what to expect. But as the walk progressed, he found that he was enjoying himself. A crowd gathered, and the police wondered how to get him down from there. When he finally came down, he was of course arrested, but said he had no regrets. Setting out in life not knowing what to expect, but nevertheless enjoying life without regrets, should be our prayer for the graduates (and for ourselves). [Possible exit point number one.] God has plans for us; we don’t know what they are. We may stumble, we may fall, but we will get right back up and either try again or decide that maybe we should try something else instead. But whatever we try, we should let our light shine. [Possible exit point number two.] He was reminded (he said) of the writer Theodor Geisel, who at college was expelled from the staff of the school magazine because of certain transgressions. Geisel eventually left college without taking a degree, and was unable to get any of his writings published – until he began submitting his works under a pseudonym: “Dr Seuss.” Geisel stumbled, but he got right back up. [Possible exit point number three.] I’d like (he said) to read you one of Dr Seuss’ books – which he did – the whole book! [Not an exit point, because the sermon should never even have gotten there.]

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Carol Hill played the white baby grand piano with a sure and relaxed technique that even Liberace could not have achieved. And the instrument was in perfect tune and sounded wonderful.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
OK, now. Why did the choir leave the church after the anthem? Why did two of the four graduates not bother to show up? Surely they knew that the service was being held in their honor. And why did the two who were there not bother to stay to hear the pastor’s sermon, which was clearly pitched at them? It was certainly not pitched at the white-haired old ladies in the pews.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the final hymn and blessing, I lingered during Carol Hill’s organ recessional – she’s as good an organist and she is a pianist. One gentleman shook my hand and said that he hadn’t yet had a chance to say hello. The pastor was shaking hands at the rear door, but I was in no mood to tell him what I thought of his Dr Seuss speech to a non-existent graduation class, and so I found a side door to slip out of.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No mention had been made of any.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – I liked the friendliness of the congregation. The music was good, and the service was conducted with dignity. I also appreciate being able to receive communion at a service. But if the pastor rambled on like that every Sunday, I don’t think I’d be able to stand it for long. And I’d want to know why people who were supposed to be an integral part of the service didn’t bother to stay for it.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The white baby grand piano.
 
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