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2785: Christ the King Cathedral, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Cathedral of Christ the King, Phoenix, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Christ the King Cathedral, Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Anglican Church in North America, Diocese of Christ the Redeemer.
The building: A modern brick structure. The inside is smaller than one would expect judging from the outside. One enters a windowless wedge-shaped room with a stage at the tall end. Altar and the usual sanctuary furnishings are on the stage, along with band instruments. Stations of the cross line the walls, which are beige.
The church: They maintain Christ the King Preschool & Academy for grades kindergarten through third. They also support OCJ Kids, a ministry for at-risk youths. They offer a men’s breakfast and women’s Bible study group, and a discipleship group that meets weekly.
The neighborhood: The cathedral is located at 29th Avenue and Greenway Road, a decidedly working class residential neighborhood of what passes in Phoenix for older homes.
The cast: The Rt Revd Rick Painter, Bishop of Christ the Redeemer Diocese, was the celebrant. He was assisted by a deacon and subdeacon who were not named, as well as by a crucifer, thurifer and two acolytes. The Revd Deacon Mathew Allen led the singing.
The date & time: Christ the King Sunday, November 23, 2014, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
There were about 120 chairs occupied by about 25 people – mostly middle aged or elderly women, a sprinkling of men. No families, no young people. At the offertory, about a dozen or so children from the Sunday school joined the congregation but sat together rather than with their families.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman shook my hand, bade me welcome, and asked me if I had been there before. Once I was seated, another gentleman came over and told me a few things about the church.

Was your pew comfortable?
Metal-legged chair upholstered in purple – comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People visited at the back of the church. Deacon Matt, the music leader, made some opening remarks, after which electronic bells rang the Westminster Chime and tolled the hour. The processional began when the bells were finished.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
I missed Deacon Matt’s opening words, as the aforementioned gentleman was still chatting to me. The deacon went on to say a few things about how the apostle Thomas acknowledged Jesus as King and Lord. In the procession, the bishop carried his crosier and wore a zucchetto but no mitre. Deacon and subdeacon were vested in dalmatic and tunicle, respectively. Deacon Matt wore an alb and deacon’s stole.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Everything was projected.

What musical instruments were played?
Digital keyboard, bass guitar, drums.

Did anything distract you?
Deacon Matt led the music with gusto, dancing and wiggling and clapping and waving his arms, which I found distracting. One young gentleman was wearing suspenders but let them hang around his buttocks and thighs rather than draw them up over his shoulders.

Cathedral of Christ the King, Phoenix, AZ (Bishop)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The liturgy itself was basically a 1979 Prayer Book Rite II said eucharist, with some elements from Rite I and the Roman rite thrown in, and a few liberties taken. Incense was plentiful. Bells were rung at the consecration. I noticed some oddities – for example, the second censing did not take place until after the Orate fratres, and then only the elements were censed – not the altar, not the crucifix, not the clergy or people. Deacon Matt pretty much set the style of worship – lots of dancing, lots of clapping and arm-waving, lots of Hallelujahs and Praise the Lords. I’ll discuss the music at length later on.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
31 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – Bishop Rick spoke like everybody’s favorite grandfather – conversationally, emotionally, with feeling. But toward the end I thought he slid downhill into a series of remarks I was sort of half-expecting, given the conservative evangelical nature of the Anglican Church in North America, but was hoping not to hear. Had he not done so, I would have rated him an 8.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The kingdom of God is the central focus of the New Testament – and we are members of it without doubt! Earthly kingdoms shall pass away, but the kingdom of God will not. We will rule with Christ forever in the only totally victorious kingdom in all of creation. We don’t serve a failing God – victory has already been won! But (and here is where he began to slide downhill, I thought) the modern world is constantly throwing an agenda of perversion at us, trying to make the abnormal seem normal. This agenda of perversion is political as well as moral. We have the God-given right to do what is correct, but no right at all to do what is wrong. The devil does everything he can to make us look ugly while we think we look cool, because he knows that we are made in God’s image. It’s a struggle of darkness vs enlightenment. But remember: we are members of a triumphant kingdom.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
In general, I will save discussing the music for the next question below. But one song, “Jesus – there’s just something about that name”, was really quite pretty and very touching. It even prompted the bishop to get up and launch into a stream of consciousness meditation on the kingdom of God. Truly an inspiring and heavenly moment. The keyboardist also played a quiet medley during communion that was very nice – I'm pretty sure one of the pieces she played was the old Perry Como hit "One little candle."

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It saddens me that a church so devoted to the rich liturgical heritage of the West is so quick to throw the West’s rich musical heritage aside in favor of the folksy tunes served up to us this morning. It didn’t start out too badly – the entrance hymn was “Crown him with many crowns” although to a syncopated drum beat. Well, I thought, if it doesn’t get any worse than this … but it did! The rest of the music, with the exceptions mentioned above, was all of the feel-goody “isn’t God awesome?” genre that people who don’t know good music seem to like so much.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the blessing, crucifer and acolytes scooted up the aisle lickety-split, leaving Bishop Rick at the altar to collect his crosier and make his final reverence. I took advantage of the ensuing gap to slip out. The gentleman who had initially greeted me was standing at the door – he shook my hand and wished me a pleasant week.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None had been announced, and I saw no evidence of any being prepared, so I just left.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – I appreciated the careful attention given to the liturgy, and Bishop Rick seemed quite charming, really. But the music made me want to roll my eyes more than wave my arms, let alone dance. Cart those band instruments away and invest in a nice digital organ, and put the Hymnal 1982 in the chairs, and I might go back. But I also noted sadly the lack of young blood (and, in fact, any blood) in the congregation.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, except for most of the music.

Cathedral of Christ the King, Phoenix, AZ (Deacon)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The dancing deacon.
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