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2838: Spirit of Grace, Surprise, Arizona, USA
Spirit of Grace, Surprise, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Old Rackensack.
The church: Spirit of Grace, Surprise, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The building: An interesting modern design consisting of a variety of triangular shapes. The interior is triangular also, with seating arranged in a semicircle around the altar platform. Choir seating is behind the altar.
The church: They have an active outreach to assisted living centers and nursing homes in the area, and once each month they hold a Super Saturday Supper (cost $7.00) for good food and fellowship. Other activities include making greeting cards for birthdays, sympathy, get-well, etc., a prayer shawl ministry, prayer chains, and transportation and household help to those needing same. There are two worship services each Sunday plus a Saturday evening service.
The neighborhood: Surprise is the northwestern-most suburb of Phoenix. The church is located in the Sun City Grand housing development, an upper-middle-class enclave of single homes for the over-55 set.
The cast: The Revd Vern Anderson, senior pastor. Fred Bornhoeft, director of music, conducted the choir, with Elaine Indahl at the piano. The reader was Don Grover. The pastor was vested in alb, cincture and white stole.
The date & time: Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015, 9.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Worship Service.

How full was the building?
Completely full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A greeter shook my hand and said, “Hi. Happy Easter.”

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes – conference-style chairs.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of visiting. The choir trickled in. The pianist played a medley of twiddly bits.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
(V) Christ is risen! (R) He is risen indeed!

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Everything was contained in a service leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?
Digital piano in the shape of a baby grand.

Did anything distract you?
I thought the piano had a rather tubby, electric sound. The pianist favored mixing in string and organ tones with the piano tone. The choir wore street clothes but all in good taste – but the choir director wore a sports shirt festooned in palm trees that seemed a bit gaudy.

Spirit of Grace, Surprise, AZ (Choir director)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A very nicely done home-grown Lutheran service roughly following the standard Western liturgical format, with some surprises (i.e., “Hallelujah! Jesus lives!” instead of the Sanctus; intercessions after communion rather than before). Lots of traditional hymns and choir anthems. At communion we were instructed to intinct the host into a chalice of wine or grape juice as we wished.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
4 minutes (children’s talk); 10 minutes (adult sermon).

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The pastor made good eye contact with both the children and the adults, looking down at his notes only occasionally. But I thought that some of the anecdotes he told interrupted the flow of the points he was trying to make, which were good points. They would have been better minus the anecdotes. My relatively low score is for that alone.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
(Children’s talk) When we think of Easter, we think of flowers, nice clothes, and candy. But do we think of popcorn? The unpopped kernels are hard, not very good. But popped corn is very good indeed! God did something incredible with Jesus: he took something that didn’t seem very good (Jesus’ passion and death) and made it into something incredible (Jesus’ resurrection). That’s the business God is in. (Adult talk) The women who went to Jesus’ tomb after the Sabbath were not expecting the Resurrection – they were expecting to anoint a dead body. They were still in the fog of Jesus’ passion and death, but the light of the Resurrection banished that fog. Their mood changed from sad, to puzzled, to amazed. Does the Resurrection matter for us, two thousand years later? Or can we believe anything we want so long as we feel close to God? No! Jesus is the only way to salvation.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir sang with great precision and discipline; it is obvious that they enjoy their ministry. At the offertory the pianist played something called “Reverie” that sounded like a cross between Debussy and Rachmaninoff. He retired the tubby-sounding electric strings and organ stop and used only the bare piano stop on the instrument – it sounded clear and lovely. Among the hymns listed in the program to be sung during communion was Jerry Sinclair’s “Alleluia”. I’m so glad that communion was over before they got to that one, or else I’d have something else to list in answer to the next question! I would so have preferred to hear Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia” instead.

Spirit of Grace, Surprise, AZ (Choir)

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The only things I have to fault are the pastor’s anecdotes that interrupted the flow of his sermon, and the pianist’s use of non-piano stops that distracted from the quality of the music. Some wealthy Sun City Grand resident wondering what to do with his money needs to make a gift to the church of a good electronic organ – Allen or Rodgers or some other high quality make.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
During communion I had spotted a lady dressed all in white wearing a stunning Easter hat. I had resolved to try to catch up to her and ask if I could take her picture, with the promise that I would e-mail it to her. I caught up to her; she agreed.

Spirit of Grace, Surprise, AZ (Hat lady)

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
An announcement had been made that due to the tight Easter schedule, the usual coffee hour would be dispensed with today.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – It’s a lovely church with a dignified approach to the liturgy. But I’m not sure I could take the pastor’s anecdotes every week or the tubby selection of stops on the digital piano.

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

Spirit of Grace, Surprise, AZ (Children's sermon)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Comparing the Resurrection to popcorn.
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