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2472: St Christopher’s, Sun City, Arizona, USA
St Christopher's, Sun City, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: St Christopher’s, Sun City, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Arizona.
The building: A rather plain brick "churchy" building from the outside. Inside is better, with cream colored walls, light brown metal beams, blond wood ceiling and pews, and maroon carpeting.
The church: They say that they are the only Hispanic ministry in Sun City, a predominantly WASPish retirement community. They also provide meeting space and Sunday school facilities for an evangelical Korean Presbyterian congregation.
The neighborhood: The church is located at the corner of Peoria Avenue and 103rd Avenue in a quiet neighborhood of single-level ranch and semi-detached homes, typical of Sun City.
The cast: The Revd Peter Fabre, priest in charge. Father was vested in alb and purple stole. Crucifer and acolytes, whose names were not given, wore cassocks and cottas.
The date & time: Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 23, 2012, 11.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Misa en Español.

How full was the building?
The church can hold about 350 but there were only 15 people present. Everyone sat pretty much together in the center-front section of the church. The congregation were predominantly young, which surprised me given the demographics of Sun City, although I was told later that they do have their share of little old ladies in black mantillas.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. There were no ushers. I helped myself to a service bulletin from a table holding various items of literature.

Was your pew comfortable?

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People visited quietly with each other. The musicians practiced.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Bendito sea Dios: Padre, Hijo y Espíritu Santo."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
El Libro de Oración Común was available although we didn’t need it (at least in theory – read on), as all the text was included in a service leaflet. Music was taken from the hymnal Flor y Canto.

What musical instruments were played?
Acoustic guitar and harmonica.

Did anything distract you?
The advent wreath had not been lit. The priest noticed this just as he was about to start his sermon, and asked if someone would please light it (which they did).

St Christopher's, Sun City, AZ (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly standard Rite II in Spanish with Eucharistic Prayer C. The music was folksy for the most part – sort of "Singing Nun Goes South of the Border." In addition to the guitarist (who also played harmonica – read on!), there were three or four vocalists (not sure – I didn’t get a clear view of them and so couldn’t count them). Very few people took part in the singing. The Flor y Canto hymnal was words-only edition, so I couldn’t join in as I didn’t know the tunes. The Lord’s Prayer was sung to the tune of The Sound of Silence, with the guitarist playing harmonica as well as guitar. That was a new one for me!

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – I’m "flipping all the cards" primarily because I could pretty much understand most of Father Peter’s Spanish. I have trouble understanding native speakers because of their accent and the speed at which they talk, but Father spoke with the same accent as I do.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Advent is a time of preparation and hope. How do we prepare for the coming of the Savior? Family reunions, special music, feasting and gifts are all common. We must take care not to let the commercial component of the season hide the fact that the coming of Christ changed the world. Mary was certainly aware of this – she was a humble young girl but had enormous vision. Everything that Christ did during his time on earth, he did for us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I found the degree to which I understood the Spanish very heavenly. During the exchange of peace, just about everyone shook hands with me. And it was just that – a handshake – none of the hugging and kissing and free-for-all social hour you sometimes see.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But not all the prayers followed the text in the service leaflet. The intercessions, for example, were an entirely different version. A lady kindly pointed out the page in the Prayer Book for me, but by the time I turned to it the prayers were finished.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The lady who had helped me find the page for the intercessions (who turned out to be Beth Mayhew, the senior warden), said that refreshments were being served in the parish hall and that I should be sure to stop by. Others in the congregation also invited me to stay for refreshments.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Good coffee served in proper china cups. There was also an assortment of Mexican pastries and a fruit compote of some sort. I chatted with Father Peter and Beth Mayhew, but most of the others seemed a bit shy about engaging me in English, just as I was shy about engaging them in Spanish.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – Yes, I think I will! A good feeling emanated from this congregation, small as it was. And I can see how attending church here will definitely help me with my Spanish.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Lord’s Prayer to The Sound of Silence – with harmonica!
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