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3298: Peace Lutheran, Peoria, Arizona, USA
Peace Lutheran, Peoria, AZ
Mystery Worshipper: Lou M. Christie.
The church: Peace Lutheran, Peoria, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Grand Canyon Synod.
The building: A rather interesting looking rectangular/wedge shaped series of brick and concrete structures. Tonight’s service began in the fellowship hall, a square room with a simple altar at one end, and continued in the sanctuary, a triangular room with stained glass Stations of the Cross and a large abstract stained glass window behind the altar.
The church: They are involved in dozens of ministries all well documented on their website. I’ll just mention the Homework Center, (quoting from their website) “a safe and nurturing place [where students may] complete their homework. We have computers, coaches, and healthy snacks available [as well as] special centers such as sewing, cooking, reading, poetry, games, and mission center.” Wednesday seems to be a special day – they call it “Faith-Full Wednesday”: an evening meal; social hours for children, youth and adults; classes; and choir/bell ringing practice. There is a Saturday evening service each week as well as two Sunday services.
The neighborhood: Peoria is a sprawling northwesterly suburb of Phoenix, primarily residential. The church is located on 89th Avenue just south of Union Hills Drive, an area of large modern upper-middle-class family homes.
The cast: The Revd Allen Cassel, senior pastor. He was assisted by a woman deacon whose name was not given. Both were vested in alb and white stole. In the sanctuary the pastor changed into standard eucharistic vestments. A guest pianist from American Lutheran Church, Sun City, filled in for their regular accompanist, who had been called away to tend to a sick friend. I’m afraid I can’t spell her last name, and I don’t see her listed on American Lutheran’s website.
The date & time: Holy Saturday, March 31, 2018, 5.30pm.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.

What was the name of the service?
Easter Vigil: Festival of Light.

How full was the building?
The calendar entry on their website for this service began: “If you wish to experience Easter without the huge crowds ...“ I counted about 100 chairs in the fellowship hall and they were pretty much all occupied. Once we arrived at the sanctuary, more people were waiting there for us. So I’d say there were probably about 200 people in all.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No.

Was your pew comfortable?
The chairs in the fellowship hall were standard plastic chairs, OK comfort-wise. The pews in the sanctuary were cushioned and quite comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a handful of people gathered outside the door to the fellowship hall waiting for it to open. No one said anything to me. Once we went inside, there was quiet talk among friends, but again no one paid any attention to me.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“It’s almost 5.30 so I’ll welcome you.”

What books did the congregation use during the service?
In the fellowship hall we used a handout with the liturgy for lighting the Paschal candle. In the sanctuary everything we needed was projected – and then some (read on)!

What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano.

Did anything distract you?
In the sanctuary, the entire service was accompanied by a slide show that illustrated what was being said and done. Not a camera feed, mind you – a slide show! I found this quite distracting – and quite unnecessary!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Sober. After the Paschal candle was lit, we processed behind it into the sanctuary while singing “Amazing Grace.” In the sanctuary we renewed our baptismal vows and had the Sign of the Cross traced on our foreheads with water from the baptismal font. The service then segued into a more or less standard but abbreviated eucharist. The hymns were all traditional. The deacon (not the pastor) spoke the words of institution over the eucharistic elements.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
17 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The pastor spoke clearly and naturally and did not refer to notes. I thought at first he was going off on too many tangents, but he managed to tie them all together.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He began with the story of a Syrian woman whose dreams of success were dashed by the Syrian civil war. She had to flee to Egypt, where she faced many hardships, but she never lost hope. Easter does not begin bright and happy. Jesus was light, but the people chose darkness. We face darkness too. Despair can overwhelm us at times. But Easter is the story that changed the world. Our limitations do not limit God. See and believe! Jesus offers life, love, a new identity. Yes, we are surrounded by darkness, but Jesus is the door through which we can pass to light. This is the promise of Easter.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being marked with the Sign of the Cross in baptismal water.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The slide show! The gospel reading (John 20:1-18, the empty tomb is discovered) was preceded by a video acting out the text. The sermon was accompanied by slides illustrating the pastor’s points. Communion was accompanied by slides. You name it – every part of the service was illustrated. Highly unnecessary, highly irritating, and highly hellish, in my opinion.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As we left, a gentleman sitting behind me shook my hand and introduced himself as Joe. “You are the only person who has said anything to me,” I told him. He shrugged his shoulders. I had had enough of the slide show and of being ignored, so I left as fast as I could.

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)?
6– It appears that they take liturgy seriously and appreciate the rich musical tradition of the Western church. The preaching was good too. These are all things I look for when choosing a church. I would be attracted to Peace Lutheran if I were made to feel more welcome. Perhaps I'll give them another try.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Oddly, I felt cold.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Being signed with baptismal water.
 
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