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3212: Our Savior, Sun City, Arizona, USA
Our Savior, Sun City, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Gloria Day.
The church: Our Savior, Sun City, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
The building: A simple modern structure of brick with a white steeple and cross in front and a banner reading “You’re Invited” displayed on the wall. Inside, one enters the social hall, set with tables and chairs; the sanctuary is through doors to the left. The sanctuary itself is a bright, pleasant room, with large plain glass windows to the right and smaller stained glass windows to the left. The wooden altar is backed by a cross. The organ console is in the rear, to the left.
The church: They seem a little thin on activities judging from their website, but there is a ladies’ guild and a chapter of OWLS (Organization of WELS Lutheran Seniors). They hold a worship service late Saturday afternoon as well as early Sunday morning.
The neighborhood: Sun City is a retirement community to the west of Phoenix – the only place in the country where, according to comedienne Bette Midler, in order to live there your age has to match the temperature. (She was referring to Fahrenheit, of course, and to the torrid Phoenix summers when the thermometer seldom dips below 100° even at night.) The church is on 103rd Avenue between Peoria and Olive Avenues, a residential community of ranch-style homes designed especially for the senior homeowner.
The cast: The Revd Bruce E. Ahlers, pastor. Fern Junso played the organ. The pastor was vested in alb and green stole.
The date & time: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, August 6, 2017, 9.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Worship with Holy Communion.

How full was the building?
There was room for about 150. I counted exactly 25. An elderly crowd, in keeping with the Sun City demographic.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman at the door shook my hand and said, “Good morning. Welcome.” One or two people in the social hall shot me curious glances but no one said anything. I was hoping to encounter the pastor, as I wanted to ask him if I would be welcome at communion, but I saw no one who looked pastoral.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People entered quietly; no visiting. Pre-recorded organ music was playing over the PA system.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Christian Worship and a service leaflet. Scriptural readings were from The Holy Bible, New International Version.

What musical instruments were played?
Electronic organ.

Did anything distract you?
Some of the stained glass windows depicted rather cryptic images: a sailing ship; an upturned hand with bent fingers; a book with single letters, mostly Roman but one Greek omega; a butterfly; etc. The pastor had a coughing spell during one of the prayers and helped himself to a drink of water; at least he had the good taste to sip it from a glass rather than from a plastic bottle as the barbarians do.

Our Savior, Sun City, AZ (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It followed the traditional Western liturgical format, but if upper lips were any stiffer they would be dead! The pastor faced ad orientem for most of the service but versus populum only for the communion service. The pastor also gave all of the readings; there were no lay readers. We were wished the peace of the Lord but did not exchange the sign of peace. Communion was table style – everyone remained at the rail after receiving until they were blessed and dismissed by the pastor – but see below. The hymns were all traditional and the congregation sang as lustily as their ages permitted.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The pastor’s style was very matter-of-fact and he was easy to understand, but I think he belabored the wheat and chaff metaphor just a wee bit.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was the gospel reading, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 (the parable of the weeds), and his sermon was entitled “What shall we do with the weeds?” We hate to see weeds in our gardens, but Jesus was not talking about the problems of gardening. The good seed is God’s people and the bad seed is the devil’s people, the unwanted. The parable makes clear that the good sometimes look just like the bad in all respects. But the bad are unbelievers, our spiritual enemies, opposed to God. Even so, we have to live with them, to deal with them every day at work and in our social lives. We should never forget where they come from, whom they serve. We must avoid getting caught up in them. God wants to preserve his people. But just as the bad can sometimes seem to be doing good, the good can sometimes fall into sin. God does not call us to uproot the weeds, although the Crusades, the Inquisition, morality laws and witch hunts have tried. Perhaps some of the bad can be reclaimed – perhaps they will change, repent – that’s what God desires. But all will get their just deserts in the end – and the end is coming!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I am always on the lookout for a sober, liturgically uplifting church service with traditional music, and that’s certainly what I got today – but see below.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The service leaflet announced, rather curtly I thought: “In our practice, as in the ancient church, communion is limited to full members and those who have declared full fellowship with our teachings.” I knew that Wisconsin Synod Lutherans practice closed communion, and I was prepared to let the pastor know beforehand that I was not Lutheran but did believe in the Real Presence and would like to take communion. However, not having had that opportunity, I did not feel welcome at communion and did not receive.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the final blessing, the pastor retired to unvest and then came back out dressed in a suit to deliver announcements. The ushers dismissed us row by row, and the pastor had a “Good morning” and a handshake for everyone as they passed. I expected at least a “Hello, welcome, you’re visiting, aren’t you?” from him but didn’t get it.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee and assorted pastries were available in the social hall, but no one seemed aware of my presence, and so I left without taking any refreshment.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I really have mixed feelings about this church. On the one hand, I appreciate traditional liturgy and traditional music; but on the other hand, everything seemed cold and lifeless. And I didn’t see any evidence of parish activities other than the aforementioned ladies’ guild and OWLS. I’d look for a livelier bunch.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not particularly, especially since I was unwelcome at communion.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The cryptic stained glass.
 
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