A modern building that looks like a very large ranch-style hacienda. One enters a large, bright lobby with refreshment bar and some tables off to the left. The sanctuary is rather dark, with brown walls and cocoa carpeting. It is triangular, with chairs arranged to focus on one of the vertices where the stage is located. On stage are musical instruments - indeed, they seem to be the center of attention. A large cross is fastened to the wall on the right.
Their main campus is located in central Phoenix, with other campuses throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area as well as in Prescott and Flagstaff, in north-central Arizona. As is usual with family-oriented charismatic churches, they support a large number of ministries all well documented on their website. There are a number of what they call Connect Groups where one may (quoting from their website) "grow in your walk with God, discover your Kingdom purpose and call, and grow with other people in our church." Their worship services (again quoting from their website) "welcome the Holy Spirit to be a part of every service. We teach and preach the Word of God and expect God to confirm His Word with signs and wonders following." There is one Sunday service each week, and a Tuesday evening service on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month.
Surprise is the northwestern-most suburb of Phoenix. The church is located on Mountain View Boulevard just west of Grand Avenue (also known as US Route 60), the principal highway connecting Phoenix with northwestern Arizona and (via US Route 93) Las Vegas, Nevada. Its a primarily residential area, with large single-family homes and several shopping centers, fast food restaurants, and medical plazas.
No one was identified. It was announced that the preacher was a guest preacher, but he was called up without his name being given.
What was the name of the service?Celebration Service.
How full was the building?
I counted about 200 chairs. There were about 30 people present at start time, but they kept trickling in during the music portion of the service. There were probably about 90 there when the trickling stopped. It was a good mix of ages. There were several seats marked "Reserved for persons with disabilities" but I spotted only one lady in a wheelchair. I'll have more to say about her in a moment.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady said, "Good morning. How are you?" but did not identify herself. A gentleman named Ray introduced himself, and a lady named Betty asked if I wanted some coffee.
Was your pew comfortable?
Padded chair - comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was quite a bit of visiting out in the lobby. As people entered the sanctuary, they found seats and remained quiet for the most part. The obligatory countdown clock was displayed on screen, and the obligatory darkness fell upon the room as the praise band began their rock concert.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. How's everybody doing?"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Nothing at all.
What musical instruments were played?
Electronic keyboard, two electric guitars, electric bass, drums. One of the guitarists also sang.
Did anything distract you?
There was a sign-up table in the lobby for vacation Bible school. There was a container of magnifying glasses on the table, and a banner over the table announced that detectives were wanted to find the Holy Spirit - as if he were playing hide and seek. I was surprised at the number of old ladies who seemed to be getting happy: clapping, swaying, waving arms, etc. As the worship leaders prayed, they addressed God as "Father God" whenever God was mentioned. I'm not saying this is bad - surely they have the right to address God as they please - but I did find it distracting to hear Father God in every dozen words or so.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Couldnt be happier, couldnt be clappier. The music portion was about thirty minutes of hard Christian rock - very loud. The prayers addressed to Father God were sort of stream-of-consciousness affairs. Lots of clapping, swaying, arm waving, etc. One lady was standing in the back waving a large red flag to and fro. Another lady was rocking back and forth as she sat - what our Jewish friends call shuckling. Lots of applause, not only for the songs but also for the prayers and during the sermon. Lots of "Amen," "Praise God" and "That's right, brother" called out.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The guest preacher, a young man, held a tablet PC that I assume contained his notes. He paced back and forth in front of the stage continually. His speaking style was very relaxed and conversational, and he was easy to hear and understand thanks to the good sound system.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The preacher's text was Genesis 1:1-5 (the first day of creation). God created beauty out of nothing. No mortal can figure out God's plan - God is a genius! If you feel that things are not going your way, remember that you're in God's time. Trust him - his plan will be fulfilled. Life is full of disappointments; lots of times we feel frustrated, hopeless, angry, and resentful. That's the devil at work - he knows what God's plan is for us, and will do anything to keep us from it. There's nothing wrong about feeling ashamed of past wrongs, but know that Jesus has freed us from all of that. Keep your eye on the future, not on the past. Yes, there will be setbacks and failures, but God's plan for us will be fulfilled at the appointed time - not sooner, not later. Ask God what his plan is. No one else can tell you - only God can.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I looked around during the music portion of the service but didn't see the lady in the wheelchair whom I had spotted out in the lobby. I wondered what had happened to her when what to my wondering eyes, the back doors swung open and in she came, swinging and swaying and clapping to the music.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
During the sermon, the preacher asked us to get up, find seven other people, and tell them we were excited about their future. Ugh! Thankfully only two people found me, and I didn't find any (nor did I try). And I've noticed that charismatic congregations such as this one tend to make a big fuss over receiving the offering. A lady got up and spent about ten minutes reminding us of the parable of the widow's mite, telling us how every penny of our offering will go to support the work of the church (well, where else would it go?), and asking us to place our hands on our offering and ask Father God to multiply it. (What Father God will do to my Mystery Worship calling card is anyone's guess.)
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At the end of his sermon, the preacher said, "I'm going to ask the worship band to come back up here while I pray for some of my brothers in the congregation." He then approached a gentleman and asked him his name ("James," the man replied). "James," the preacher went on, "I know you've had some disappointments recently, but I also know that something very good is about to happen to you." And so on. I took it as my cue to slip out quietly. And lo and behold, whom should I see out in the lobby but the wheelchair lady, speaking with a young gentleman. They both wished me a happy week as I left.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were refreshments available in the lobby before the service: coffee, lemonade, cut-up fruit, assorted pastries. I took some lemonade but found it on the weak and flavorless side too watered down. The pastries were tasty, though.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – This style of worship is not for me, although I don't begrudge it to those who obviously find it meaningful and fulfilling.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, but I really didn't learn anything new today that I didn't already know. All good Christians accept the fact that God's schedule is not our schedule.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The Holy Spirit playing hide and seek.