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3073: Northminster Presbyterian, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Northminster Presbyterian, Phoenix, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Lou M. Christie.
The church: Northminster Presbyterian, Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Presbyterian Church (USA).
The building: A trim, tidy modern structure dating from 1985. One enters a large lobby off which opens the sanctuary. The sanctuary is square, with a pitched wood ceiling and wood paneling behind the communion table. Choir seating is in the rear.
The church: The congregation was formed in 1962 under the name St James Presbyterian Church and was reorganized four years later under the present name. They have an outreach ministry that runs a food bank and supports a variety of charities. There are also a fellowship group and a women’s group. There are Sunday school classes for all ages. They hold one service each Sunday preceded by Bible study. Bible study is also held Wednesday evenings.
The neighborhood: They are located on North 35th Avenue just south of Thunderbird Road, a working class residential area. A Lutheran church and Romanian Pentecostal church (now there’s a candidate for Mystery Worship!) are nearby.
The cast: The Revd Richard Klaus, pastor, wearing a blue shirt and khaki slacks. A young man giving the readings was not named, nor were the pianist and trumpeter.
The date & time: Sunday, September 25, 2016, 10.15am.

What was the name of the service?
Worship Service.

How full was the building?
There was room for about 150 and it was about one-third full. Mostly an elderly crowd – some young adults but no children.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A boy said “Good morning, sir” as he held the door for me. Inside, a lady said “Good morning” as she handed me a service sheet. Once I was seated, a gentleman came over and said, “Hello, I don’t believe I know you.” The pastor also came over and greeted me. Finally, an old lady said, “You’re a visitor. Nice to have you.” All very polite without being overbearing.

Was your pew comfortable?
They were red cushioned conference room type chairs and were quite adequate for the job.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of visiting and talking. The pianist played some twiddly bits that didn’t do anything to diminish the talking. Announcements were projected onto screens.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Well, good morning.”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration and a service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano, digital keyboard, trumpet. There was a choir of seven who also leaned toward the elderly side. Two members of the choir, plus the pianist on digital keyboard, came forward to sing the two contemporary songs that were included.

Did anything distract you?
The first person I saw upon entering was a portly gentleman in a red shirt sporting a long white beard. Santa Claus, I thought. Later on, Mr Claus sat down with a group of old ladies in the row in front of me and chatted with them a bit, but then he disappeared – I didn't see where he went. After the service I spotted him out in the lobby once again, where he came over to me with a friendly greeting.

Northminster Presbyterian, Phoenix, AZ (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A sober hymn sandwich. The music was a blend of the traditional and contemporary. We recited the Nicene Creed (believing in one holy catholic church with a small “c”) and the Lord’s Prayer (debts/debtors). In what was billed as the pastoral prayer, similar to the intercessions or prayers of the people in Episcopal and Catholic churches, the pastor prayed, among other things, for those “caught in the lie of Islam” and for the downfall of the Taliban. The Lord's Supper was prefaced by the sursum corda lifted from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church, and words of institution were pronounced followed by a memorial acclamation, again from the Book of Common Prayer. Finally, elders distributed the elements – torn-off bits of bread from a loaf and wee cuppies of grape juice – with "the gift of God" language from the Book of Common Prayer.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
41 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Pastor Klaus spoke clearly and did not seem to be using notes. He peppered the serious parts with off-the-cuff remarks to quite good effect. I’d like to score him higher, but I thought the sermon was too long.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Church is called to be many things: the bride of Christ, body of Christ, family of God, soldiers of God, etc. – in bad times as well as good. We have come to Jesus, the resurrected Savior, who was rejected by men just as Christians today are often rejected by society as old-fashioned and “not with it.” But as Christians we are precious in the sight of God and are grafted onto God’s chosen people of the Old Testament. We are temples of the living God and a part of God’s promises. God walks in our midst. We serve him by serving one another according to our gifts, by sharing the gospel with the world, by strengthening and supporting the Church, and by praising God. Good works – but none of them amount to anything without faith in Jesus Christ.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It was heavenly to hear the value of good works preached in a Protestant church. And after distributing the communion elements, the elders returned in procession to the communion table carrying leftovers – much as the disciples must have returned with the collected leftover loaves and fishes after Jesus fed the multitude. It struck me as slightly strange, though, that after returning with the leftover juice ...

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
... the elders used the same trays to go out and take up the collection. I thought at first they were collecting our used cuppies until I saw people putting money in the trays. And it saddened me to note that the congregation appeared so elderly. With no children and very few young folk, I fear for its future. Finally, I had to leave off singing the closing hymn, as the second verse was projected twice onto the screen, and everyone sang it twice apparently without thinking – whereas I, following along in the hymnal, went on to the third verse until I realized what was happening.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The pastor literally made a beeline for me and thanked me for coming. We spoke briefly about the remarks he had made re Islam. The Santa Claus gentleman also shook my hand and said it was nice to see me there.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I noticed a coffee urn set up in the lobby before the service but didn’t partake then. Nothing was on offer after the service.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I prefer a more liturgically oriented celebration, but everyone seemed quite friendly and quite serious about their faith. It was refreshing to hear traditional music sung – even the two contemporary songs were on the more mellow end of the scale of obnoxiousness.

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?
Praying for those “caught in the lie of Islam.”
 
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