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2201: Desert Streams Lutheran, Surprise, Arizona, USA
Desert Streams Lutheran Surprise

Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Desert Streams Lutheran, Surprise, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Grand Canyon Synod.
The building: They meet at the Rosefield Charter School, a rather plain looking building in back of a largely vacant strip mall. The meeting room is a typical all-purpose school hall. Folding screens had been arrayed to conceal what I suppose were assorted school things. A long table holding the communion elements had been covered with a white tablecloth. Behind the table was a large wooden cross.
The church: They offer Christian education classes for all ages, ranging from toddlers through senior citizens, including vacation Bible school. They sponsor several groups, including a career group that provides counseling for persons who are unemployed, seeking a career change, or going through stressful times at work; MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), offering support for mothers of young children; and prayer groups. There are two services each Sunday, one traditional and one contemporary. The eucharist is celebrated at each worship service.
The neighborhood: Rosefield Charter School sits on the corner of Bullard and Cactus Roads in Surprise, the northwesternmost suburb of Phoenix. When the area was first developed about 60 years ago, people said that if such a remote place ever became a city it would be a surprise. Today, the city of Surprise boasts a population of over 100,000 and features several middle class housing communities and retirement villages. There is also a relatively large amount of undeveloped land that is quickly being given over to new housing and shopping complexes. Surprise is spring training home to the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals baseball teams, and several new hotels and apartment complexes have sprung up around the stadium.
The cast: The Revd Kevin E. Ruffcorn, pastor. The pastor was dressed in a flowered sports shirt and slacks. A gentleman identified only as "Mike" gave the children’s sermon. Gail Born played several handbell selections.
The date & time: Sunday, July 10, 2011, 8.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Spirited Traditional Service.

How full was the building?
I counted about 65 chairs; about 30 of them were occupied. Mostly middle-aged to elderly women; some men; some younger couples. Four young children, all little girls.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was overwhelmed with welcome the moment I closed my car door. Several people said hello, welcome, how are you this morning, we’re so glad you came, etc. Inside, people wanted to know if I lived in the area and how I had heard about the church.

Was your pew comfortable?
Typical conference-room meeting chairs; comfortable enough.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The effusive welcome continued. People were visiting at the back of the room. I was the only person sitting down until about three or four minutes after the advertised starting time, when others began to sit down. Recorded music was quietly playing.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. God’s spirit is with us."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Only a service leaflet. Readings, prayers and songs were projected onto a screen.

What musical instruments were played?
A pre-recorded soundtrack accompanied three women who sang with thin, timid voices. The aforementioned Mrs Born played several handbell solos. I’ll have more to say about the music later.

Did anything distract you?
I kept wondering what was concealed behind the folding screens. Mrs Born looked a bit like
Benjamin Franklin in a cowgirl skirt and boots. I marveled at her dexterity as she bent, stooped and reached for the handbells as if she were a chorus of eight people.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very loosely liturgical: welcome and announcements, exchange of peace, confession and absolution, readings, singing, sermon, communion and dismissal. Very informal, though – not taken from the Lutheran Book of Worship so far as I could tell. We took communion back to front, the people in the back of the room being invited to go up first. We received a morsel of bread broken off from a loaf, which we then dipped either into a chalice of grape juice or wine as we preferred.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
7 minutes (children’s sermon); 20 minutes (adults’ sermon).

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – For "Mike" and his children’s sermon; 5 for Pastor Kevin. "Mike" seemed to engage the children well but he also seemed overly talkative. Pastor Kevin seemed to wander a bit but he eventually managed to bring his separate threads more or less to a focus.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
(Children’s) God has already forgiven us; there’s no need to ask his forgiveness. We need only to thank him. God knows all our needs and all our troubles and he is always with us. (Adults’) Pastor Kevin’s text was Romans 8:1-11 (Christ has set us free into the realm of the Spirit). We need not struggle to earn God’s love; it is there for the taking. But even though we are free, we seem bound up in worldly cares. We have been imprisoned so long in a broken world that it’s hard to believe that we are free. But should we just “turn the world off”? No. We should instead give our cares to Jesus. God is with us; we should focus on his presence, not on our weaknesses. Worship and prayer can help us change our focus from the world to God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The welcome I received was one of the best I’ve ever gotten anywhere. And in the Apostles’ Creed we said we believe in the "holy catholic church", not the "holy Christian church" or some other such substitution we sometimes hear in non-Roman churches.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The music: "contemporary lite" drivel. Not at all what I would call traditional. Where was Bach? Where was Martin Luther? Instead we had the likes of Tim Hughes’ "Here I am to worship" – a song that makes me gag whenever I hear it. To top it all off, one of the singers had a habit of beating her breast as she sang. And the pre-recorded soundtrack didn’t always match the verses that were projected.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Pastor Kevin made the Sign of the Cross over us as he read the final blessing, and then invited us for refreshments. After singing something called "Majesty", which reminded me of the theme song from the TV show Dynasty, several people again came up to me and welcomed me, thanked me for coming, invited me to stay for refreshments, and hoped I’d come back. "I’ll be looking for you to come back," one woman said.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee, lemonade and cookies were set out in the back of the room, but I wasn’t in the mood to stay.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – The woman who said she’d be looking for me to come back may look in vain, for indeed what would there be to come back to? Yes, the welcome was wonderful! Yes, they seem to be into some interesting ministries. But this is not what I would call traditional worship, and Miss Amanda is just an old-fashioned girl at heart.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The overwhelming welcome I received. And the Dynasty theme will be running through my head all day.

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