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2459: Advent Episcopal, Sun City West, Arizona, USA
Advent Episcopal, Sun City West, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Advent Episcopal, Sun City West, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Arizona.
The building: A low, wide building in the Southwest Mission style. The inside is pleasant, with dark cream colored walls, Spanish style chandeliers, and dark wooden pews and fixtures. Stained glass along the south wall depicts various symbols of Christianity. Stations of the Cross line the walls.
The church: They sponsor Bible study, religious education, a menís club, and a chapter of Episcopal Church Women.
The neighborhood: Sun City West is a retirement community among the northwestern suburbs of Phoenix. Single-story detached houses in a desert landscape setting Ė easy for seniors to get around in as well as to take care of Ė predominate. The church is located on a quiet residential street with the charming name of Spanish Garden Drive.
The cast: The Revd Canon Geoffrey Dibbs, pastoral care associate, was the celebrant. The Revd Gabriel A. Sinisi, M.D., rector, served as liturgical deacon and preached. Jill Tabata presided at the organ and Yvonne Reed, director of music, conducted the choir. Verger, crucifer and acolytes were unnamed.
The date & time: All Saints Sunday, November 4, 2012, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Eucharist with Choir and Sermon.

How full was the building?
I counted room for about 300 and it was pretty full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Tables had been set up outside where raffle tickets and various other items were being sold; folks manning the tables said hello as I passed. Inside, an usher said hello as he handed me the bulletin.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes Ė padded wooden pew with fold-down kneeler.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People chatted rather loudly on the porch, but inside it was quiet for the most part. A rather noisy party settled into the pew in back of me, requiring me to change my seat. I shot them one of my better glances as I did so, but I think they were too busy talking to notice. The church bell was rung and the organist played some twiddly bits.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Iím [didnít catch his name], a member of the vestry. Iíd like to welcome all newcomers." The entrance procession consisted of verger, crucifer, choir, acolytes and clergy.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Prayer Book 1979, Hymnal 1982, Lift Every Voice and Sing II, bulletin. Actually, all the prayers and readings were in the bulletin.

What musical instruments were played?
Electronic organ, nicely voiced and masterfully played by Jill Tabata. There was a choir of 10 voices, all dressed in short lacy surplices and purple cassocks.

Did anything distract you?
There was a bit more lace than Iím accustomed to seeing in a middle-of-the-road Episcopal church. Not only were the choirís surplices trimmed with lace, but the albs of both priests as well. Actually, I found the vestments distracting. Canon Dibbs wore a white chasuble with green yoke; Father Sinisi a paisley priestís (not deaconís) stole; the verger a black gown, green scapular and black scarf.

Advent Episcopal, Sun City West, AZ (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
By-the-book Rite II eucharist. Bells but no smells. Singing in all the usual places but no chanting. The verger kept quite busy, verging the gospel procession and the presentation of gifts as well as the carrying of communion to those in the pews too infirm to approach the rail. We received communion "Catholic style", standing to receive the bread and then carrying it over to the side, where ministers were stationed with the chalice. Most of us intincted, although some sipped from the chalice. The exchange of peace was Catholic style too Ė handshaking all around but no free-for-all meet and greet as we sometimes see.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – I really liked Father Sinisiís style as well as the substance of his sermon. He worked the space well, walking back and forth and gesturing as he spoke. He asked some questions, told some jokes Ė in short, he was quite the thespian.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Are we saints or sinners? To sin, we must know that what we are about to do is not what God wants, but we do it anyway. Everyone sins now and then Ė but we try to be good. We donít deserve sainthood, but we have it through the merits of Jesus Christ. We must choose to accept it. God gave each of us a note to play in the symphony of creation. No one note is better than any other, but the symphony is incomplete if even one note fails to sound.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I thought Father Sinisiís sermon was a taste of heaven.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
During communion, there was quite a bit of waving, hand-shaking and yoo-hooing as people spotted their friends as they returned to their pews from the rail. And one of the acolytes sat with her legs crossed, twitching one foot and twiddling her thumbs. I was glad for her that she had no personal failings to contemplate and that the note God had given her to play was sounding so sweetly that she could afford to look bored.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The organist struck up When the Saints Go Marching In as her recessional, but I donít think anyone but me noticed, as immediately after the dismissal the yoo-hooing and waving shifted into high gear. Nor did anyone notice me as I sat in my pew collecting my notes (and wits). I managed to slip out a side door.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. An announcement in the bulletin advised that coffee hour is suspended pending completion of renovations to the church hall.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – Itís close to where I live. I liked the liturgy and the preaching. I could join the choir. The congregation seem a friendly bunch, judging from all the greeting and yoo-hooing.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Playing my note in Godís symphony.
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