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3033: St Henry, Buckeye, Arizona, USA
St Henry, Buckeye, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Old Rackensack.
The church: St Henry, Buckeye, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Phoenix.
The building: Their first church was built in 1906. Legend has it that an anonymous donor of a substantial sum requested that the church be named in honor of St Henry. The present building, which was completed in 2013, is the parish’s fourth. It was designed by CCBG Architects of Phoenix, known for their several area churches, residences and commercial buildings, and is in the Spanish Mission Revival style – at least on the outside. The inside is a large sparsely-decorated all-purpose room with a raised platform at one end for the altar. A crucifix is attached to the wall behind the altar. Windows on the north and south walls have been concealed by panels.
The church: They host a chapter of the Legion of Mary and the Knights of Columbus and support a mission in Vladivostok, Russia. Other groups are mentioned on their website. In addition to the Saturday vigil, there are three Sunday masses in English and one in Spanish. Weekday masses are celebrated every day except Tuesday; additionally, on Wednesdays, the Rosary is recited and a Holy Hour of Adoration is observed.
The neighborhood: Buckeye, the westernmost suburb of Phoenix, was founded in 1888 as an agricultural community. When the railroad came through in 1910, the whole town moved itself lock, stock and barrel to be closer to the tracks. Today, Buckeye is known primarily as that blink-and-you’ve-missed-it place you pass through on your way to San Diego. The downtown area is reminiscent of days gone by when downtown was the heart of many a small town. (Why is a Grateful Dead song buzzing in my head?) You’ve just got to poke around to see one interesting curiosity, a 25-foot tall fiberglass statue of a “gentleman of the road” known as Hobo Joe standing near a muddy field. Once the mascot of a now-defunct chain of restaurants linked to shady finances and organized crime, the statue was placed by a local business owner in memory of his friend the sculptor, who was never paid for his work. The church is located on the wonderfully named Lower Buckeye Road near Miller Road, in what can only be described as the middle of nowhere.
The cast: A visiting priest who was introduced (I think) as Father Tom (didn’t catch his last name). He was assisted by the Revd Mr Victor León, deacon; a little girl acolyte in an alb too short for her; and an older girl crucifer in cotta and black cassock. The priest wore an alb without cincture and a stole that looked more blue than green, although that was not the least of his departures from orthodoxy – read on! The deacon was properly vested in green dalmatic.
The date & time: Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 12, 2016, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Mass.

How full was the building?
Completely full. Lots of young families and teenagers, lots of middle-aged adults.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No.

Was your pew comfortable?
Metal folding chairs – judge for yourself. There were no kneelers – some people knelt on the floor during the eucharistic prayer.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The very live acoustics of the hall amplified even the softest conversation, and the din increased as mass time approached. The choir rehearsed a bit.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Welcome to St Henry’s Catholic Church.”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The hardbound Saint Augustine Hymnal. The bulletin, in English and Spanish, included a brief essay – interestingly, in Spanish only, not in English – on the place of the Bible in Christian devotion.

What musical instruments were played?
Digital keyboard. There was a choir of about a half dozen people. The keyboardist seemed unaware that you’re not supposed to draw all the stops at once – the sound was a mixture of piano, strings, choir with echo, and vibrato, which she didn’t vary at all throughout the service.

St Henry, Buckeye, AZ (Choir)

Did anything distract you?
Father Tom used the prescribed words of the liturgy as a suggested script from which he improvised his own mass.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
See above. The music was all uninspired modern Catholic stuff, with exceptions noted below. I was becoming increasingly impatient with Father’s improvisations around the prescribed text. I thought the intercessions (and the sermon) came very close to being political, e.g. “That our lawmakers may have the courage not to force people to violate their religious convictions, we pray to the Lord.” There were three collections: one standard collection, with baskets being passed up and down the rows; immediately followed by a second collection, with plastic construction helmets being passed (building fund? No mention was made); and a third, where a little girl stood at the front holding a basket labeled “Children’s Collection,” with children walking up to her to deposit their offerings. There were bells at the consecration but no incense. The crucifer snuffed the altar candles at the conclusion of communion before the post-communion prayer – I had never seen that done before.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – I’d rate Father Tom’s delivery a 9 but his content a 0. He spoke clearly and with good use of hand gestures, making good eye contact with the congregation. He did not use notes. He began with two anecdotes about Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, but he didn’t really tie them in – well, maybe the Gandhi anecdote a little bit. But I thought his content was decidedly political – I would have preferred a discourse on the readings for the day.

St Henry, Buckeye, AZ (Priest)

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The law permits acts that oppose the law of Jesus. We must live our lives in a way that measures up to the gospel – that is the only way out of hell. Invite Jesus into your lives – his teachings are our example.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
In general I did not like the music, but the service music was of a better quality than that usually heard in Catholic churches. And the cantor singing the psalm had a truly lovely voice. Both Father Tom and Deacon Victor chanted in deep baritone voices that carried well and were right on pitch.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The liberties that Father Tom took with the liturgy. One example: Priest: “The Lord be with you.” People: “And with your spirit.” Priest: “Thank you.”

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As is common in Catholic churches, everyone began clearing out as soon as the altar party had recessed to the rear of the church, even though the recessional hymn was still being sung – well, by the choir anyway. I stood in place trying to look a little befuddled, but no one said anything to me either inside the church or later outside.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – “Shakedown Street” and Hobo Joe notwithstanding, I can’t imagine anything that would draw me once again to Buckeye. If perchance I were to visit, I would seek out a different church. I felt no sense of community at St Henry, no welcoming of strangers. And I prefer my liturgy verbatim and my politics not out of the Vatican.

St Henry, Buckeye, AZ (Hobo Joe)

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I really didn’t have any feeling one way or the other.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Snuffing the candles immediately after communion.
 
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