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3052: Apostles Lutheran, Peoria, Arizona, USA
Apostles Lutheran, Peoria, AZ
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Apostles Lutheran, Peoria, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, Pacific Southwest District.
The building: A modern building in the Spanish Mission Revival style. One enters through a large porch on which there are four archways. Inside, the sanctuary is bright and airy, with white brick walls and green carpeting. The altar is on a raised platform. To the left is the pulpit; to the right, a piano.
The church: They sponsor the Dorcas Society, a quilt-making ministry for those in need; a prayer shawl ministry; the Lutheran Hour, a radio ministry; Lutheran Women’s Missionary League; a Stephen Ministry; a youth group; and Bible study. There are three English language services each Sunday (only two in the summer) plus a Spanish language service.
The neighborhood: Peoria is one of Phoenix’s northwestern suburbs. The church is on Cactus Road just east of 71st Avenue, a predominantly middle-class residential neighborhood. Just across the street is RCB Academy, a charter secondary school specializing in preparing students for careers in healthcare.
The cast: The Revd Andrew Byars, pastor; Paul Wise, lay reader; Hope Wetzstein, acolyte.
The date & time: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 31, 2016, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Worship.

How full was the building?
There was room for about 175 and there were about 50 present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A welcome table had been set up outside. There, a gentleman said hello, asked me how I had come to be there, and offered to answer any questions I might have. He introduced me to the pastor, who also welcomed me. Inside, a few people said hello and shook my hand.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes – padded pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very noisy out in the vestibule, which noise carried into the sanctuary. The pastor worked the room, stopping by each pew to chat briefly.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Good morning, everyone. Good to see you today.”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
In the pews were copies of the Lutheran Service Book and The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. But everything we needed was projected (but read on!).

What musical instruments were played?
Upright piano (they’ll need to call the piano tuner in soon), acoustic guitar, clarinet, saxophone. An electronic organ in the gallery remained silent.

Did anything distract you?
The overhead projections were consistently out of sync with what was happening. Either the wrong slides were shown, or the magnification was too large to fit the entire text onto the screen, or both.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was billed as the informal come-as-you-are service, but liturgically speaking it was fairly standard. The pastor wore grey slacks and a white clerical shirt with clerical collar – no stole or other vestments. But the acolyte wore alb and green cincture. The hymns were a mixture of the traditional and what would pass for Singing Nun stuff if Lutherans had nuns. See below for further comments re the music. At communion we approached the rail via the side aisles and stood until invited to kneel. We were then given a wafer plus a wee cuppie (or we could sip from the chalice if we preferred). The wee cuppies held grape juice; I’m assuming the chalice held wine. After we had communed, we remained at the rail until dismissed by the pastor.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
18 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The pastor’s sermon was well prepared, but he kept looking down at his notes and spoke rather rapidly. I think that was just his normal mannerism of speaking, though.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The pastor’s text was Ecclesiastes 1 (“Vanity of vanities”). Vanity (he said) is an old-fashioned word for meaningless. We have a love-hate relationship with work. We complain about it, but being out of work can lead to issues. It’s not always easy – sometimes it all seems meaningless (ever have a day like that?) – what’s the point? Work hard and then you die. But God permits us to feel satisfaction for a job well done, and he uses our work to bless the world. Jesus saw to it that we don’t have to work for God’s love – Jesus makes us good enough in God’s eyes. With Jesus, work has dignity. So enjoy it!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At the offertory, pianists Chip Love and Jean Morriss played a duet on the hymn “It is well with my soul” that was well written and inspiringly played. Quite lovely – except that it was applauded!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But the music in general was disappointing. The pianist (not Mr Love or Ms Morriss) accompanied even the old standard hymns in a style more suited to the romper room than to the sanctuary. Two young girls who led the singing sang only approximately on key. And the congregational singing was lackluster at best. I’m sure it is better at the earlier traditional service where the organ is used.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people thanked me for coming. The pastor shook my hand and invited me to browse their website and Facebook page. The gentleman who had greeted me at the welcome table asked me how I had liked the service.

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)?
5 – I liked the traditional approach to liturgy and music, but I would have to check out the earlier service. This one was a bit too loose for my taste, especially the piano accompaniment.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That the acolyte was vested more appropriately than the pastor.
 
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