A modern, very attractive little building. Inside is a rectangular room with banners on the walls quoting various Bible passages in English and Spanish. The altar sits on a raised platform, flanked by an upright piano to the left and electronic equipment plus two bongo drums to the right.
Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ was formed in 2001 by Lutherans who objected to certain liberal practices and beliefs of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. They see themselves as a middle ground between the liberal ELCA and the more conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Their history, beliefs and practices are well described in their Wikipedia entry. Amazing Grace Church sponsors a jail ministry, having planted churches, both English and Spanish speaking, throughout the county jail system. They also hold a Monday night prayer meeting, a Wednesday night family meal followed by Bible study and communion, and a recovery ministry. There are English and Spanish worship services each Sunday.
They are located just west of 73rd Avenue on Camelback Road, one of the main east-west thoroughfares through the region, in this westerly suburb of Phoenix. Nothing particularly remarkable about the area – working class residential, primarily Hispanic. A few blocks away is the Ranch Market, a large full-service supermarket specializing in Mexican groceries and prepared foods.
The pastor, assisted by his two associate pastors. The pastor wore a cream colored shirt, untucked, and charcoal jeans, and sported a pectoral cross. One of the associate pastors was likewise attired; the other wore a black shirt and black slacks.
What was the name of the service?Worship Service in English.
How full was the building?
Their website states: ‘We welcome all.’ I counted about 150 chairs and they were welcoming about 35 people today – a goodly mix of young and old, men and women.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
One of the associate pastors (not the one in black) looked a bit surprised at seeing a visitor and seemed hesitant as to whether or not he should greet me. He eventually did, and introduced himself. The pastor then said hello and asked me where I was from and how I had heard about their church. During the meet and greet, which was an extended round of kissing and hugging, quite a few people shook my hand (no kissing or hugging, though).
Was your pew comfortable?
Cushioned chair – comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
General hellos among friends. A bell was rung three times – I thought it might signal the beginning of the Angelus, but it didn’t.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Ready to go? I’m ready.’ This by the associate pastor in black.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. In the seats were Santa Biblia, The Holy Bible, New International Version, and several other books that were out of my reach (i.e., not at my seat). A projected video referenced ‘the brown Bible,’ ‘the small brown Bible,’ and ‘the red Bible’ (the latter being the NIV mentioned above), but I don’t know what the other two were. Words to the songs were projected.
What musical instruments were played?
The music was on a canned sound track, to which were added the two bongo drums mentioned above, but for only one of the songs.
Did anything distract you?
I guess the principal distraction was observing how abbreviated the liturgy was, as will be described below. I’ll mention one example here – I know the origin of the Lavabo was the need for the priest to wash his hands after receiving the offerings, but here it was actually done with a bottle of hand sanitizer.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
As happy clappy as Lutherans are ever going to get, I guess. The opening song was that quintessential happy clappy anthem itself, ‘O Happy Day,’ sung with hand clapping, arm waving, and general jumping up and down. There was no confession, no Gloria, no Creed. There was only one reading: Galatians 4:21-31 (Paul’s take on the Abraham/Sarah/Hagar/Ishmael/Isaac saga). There were intercessions and the Lord’s Prayer, and the words of institution were pronounced over the communion elements. At communion, the two associate pastors broke fresh, chewy bits off a loaf, which we then intincted into wine or grape juice as we preferred. There was an infant baptism, which more or less followed the standard liturgical format, but again in abbreviated form. At various times, various people called out ‘Amen’ or ‘Hallelujah’ or other such interjections.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 — The pastor spoke clearly and informally, and his points were well taken. But he basically read from a variety of commentaries on the text, interspersing remarks of his own. I would have preferred a self-prepared sermon (based on commentaries if that’s what he wanted to do) and preached rather than read.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Ishmael was the natural son of Abraham and the slave girl Hagar, but Isaac was the supernatural son of Abraham and his wife Sarah. Ishmael was born of impatience – Abraham and Sarah were tired of waiting for God to give them a legitimate son. Impatience never yields good results. We cannot force the hand of God. He doesn’t need our help – he will act in his own time. We are not the ones who are in charge. There was conflict between Ishmael and Isaac from the very start. Ishmael represents the Arabs, and Isaac the Jews, and Arabs have been attacking Jews ever since – just turn on the TV or browse the Web. Abraham’s and Sarah’s impatience with God’s plan is responsible for this. Get in line with God’s plan for us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This is not my style of worship, but I sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit in this congregation and their worship, and I actually found it quite moving. And although the music was not to my taste either, there were two songs from the 19th century: “Jesus Paid It All” and “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus,” that were done to a gentle, folksy accompaniment and were really quite nice. And during the prayers of the people, a woman stood up and said that she had been diagnosed with a cancer that the doctors said was untreatable. She had prayed that God would give her the strength to know his will in this situation. When she returned to the doctor, he told her that not only was her condition treatable, but that it wasn’t cancer after all. The doctor said he had no explanation for what had happened. ‘God is the explanation,’ the woman told him. I found this testimony very moving, as did the congregation – they applauded profusely!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I’m not sure that the only explanation for the centuries-old strife in the Middle East is Abraham and Sarah’s impatience.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
If truth be told, I was beginning to feel out of place, that I didn’t belong in this holy gathering. I have never felt this way before when Mystery Worshipping. I actually left after receiving communion.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I don’t know if there was any.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 — Well, it’s not my style of worship, but I felt happy for the joy and fellowship and general uplifting of spirit that this congregation obviously feels for one another. I would not rule out a return visit.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
‘Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.’