Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwyth
Church: First Christian Church
Location: Yuma, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 24 June 2007, 9:30am
A large, modern, symmetrical building sitting in the middle of a barren field. It looked like a ship adrift in the desert; I was reminded of Noah's Ark. Inside, a large carpeted lobby contains a library, snack bar with tables and chairs, gift shop, and informational kiosks. The auditorium is large, with light brown walls and cocoa brown upholstered chairs and carpeting. The stage has a black backdrop with white curtained panels and a large wooden cross. Projection screens can be found on either side of the stage.
They sponsor dozens of religious and social ministries all described on their website. There are two services each Sunday, with nursery care and child activities provided.
Yuma sits near the spot where Arizona, California and Mexico converge. It is one of the hottest cities in the United States, with summertime temperatures reaching upward of 105 degrees Fahrenheit, or 40 degrees Celsius. It is a small, nondescript city, with a defunct downtown, seedy commercial strips, and unremarkable residential areas featuring what are euphemistically called "manufactured homes." Outside the city limits (and thus exempt from city sales tax) are several modern shopping malls, one of which cleverly emulates what downtown must have looked like in more prosperous times. The church is located on the outskirts of the city, in the midst of a barren desert landscape interrupted by irrigated agricultural strips.
Mr Darrin Akin, worship and music minister, led the service from the piano. The Revd Daniel E. Trautman, senior minister, was the preacher.
What was the name of the service?Morning Worship.
How full was the building?
I counted 1000 chairs; they were about two-thirds full. Most of the congregation were young to middle aged couples.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Four different greeters shook my hand, wished me good morning, and said they were glad that I had come. After I sat down, several people said good morning and shook my hand as they passed by my row.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, the chairs were quite comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite a bit of visiting and chatting. Contemporary Christian music was played over the PA system. Announcements were flashed on the two projection screens.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We've been so blessed in so many ways." This was followed by a jaunty number that had everyone on their feet clapping.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were several handouts but they contained announcements only, no order of service. The Holy Bible, New International Version, was in the seats.
What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano, lead guitar, bass guitar and drums. There was a choir of about 12 people. Six women calling themselves only the Ladies' Ensemble sang an Andrews Sisters-style number at communion.
Did anything distract you?
Some of the men in the congregation overdid it with their after-shave I usually have a similar complaint to make about ladies and their cologne, but not today. One gentleman brought in a cup of coffee despite signs at the entrance asking people not to do this.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A holy hootenanny. Very festive and happy-clappy. The worship and music minister, Darrin Akin, led the entire service from the piano. There were very few if any prayers and no scriptural readings it was almost all contemporary Christian songs. At communion, Mr Akin gave a meditation on the passion and death of Christ, complete with projected slides that Mel Gibson himself could have assembled. There were no words of institution. Communion was brought to us in our seats a thimbleful of grape juice and a tiny sliver of bread, despite a picture of more substantial slices of a heartier bread being projected onto the screens. The sermon came after communion.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Pastor Trautman was dressed in a flowered shirt and tan slacks, and stood with his hands in his pockets most of the time. He spoke clearly, though, and included numerous personal anecdotes in his talk.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was 1 Corinthians 16:21-24. Paul may have dictated his letter to the Corinthians to a scribe evidence suggests his eyesight was failing him but the final four verses are in his own hand a postscript, as it were. He admonishes the Church to grow strong in its relationship with Jesus, to live up to the name of Christian, to show a warm, friendly affection toward Jesus and cursed be those who don't! After all, Jesus said pretty much the same thing himself in Matthew 10:11-15. It's easy to love people we approve of, but all who receive God's grace are worthy of our love. Where would we be without God's mercy? Let God's grace and your love flow like a cooling stream, bringing refreshment to all you meet.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
For once, not a single cell phone went off!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Those interminable contemporary Christian songs, all sounding so insufferably the same. There were so many of them, and they seemed to go on forever!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I buttonholed a gentleman to ask him who the pianist and preacher were, as they were not clearly identified in the handouts. He told me, but did not go on to add, "Is this your first time here? Welcome! Where are you from?" etc., nor did anyone else.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Both regular and vanilla-flavored coffee were available, along with soft drinks and several kinds of pastries. I had a cup of regular coffee tasty and hot, served in a styrofoam cup and a glazed cruller. Delicious! Things were getting a little boisterous as parents collected their children from the nursery, so I escaped into the gift shop looking for a souvenir of my weekend in Yuma. I selected a mug decorated with hymns from a senior citizen point of view: "Blessed insurance, so hard to find" and "Just a slower walk with thee (Help me, Jesus, bend my knee)." It occurred to me that the young man ringing up my purchase had probably never heard the originals of those hymns, being caught up as he would be in "Here I am to worship" and the like.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – I prefer a more traditional liturgical celebration with prayers and scriptural readings.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It made me glad that I have had the pleasure of joining in worship experiences richer than this one.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Communion without the words of institution.