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1655: All Saints, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
All Saints, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe, accompanied by Shipmates Ye Olde Motherboarde, JB, Zeke, Pigwidgeon, and a friend named Cassandra.
The church: All Saints, Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Arizona.
The building: A large barn of a place. On my last visit three years ago, which was in the daytime, I remarked on how warmly lit the interior seemed. This evening the interior was likewise lit with a warm, pinkish lighting that was very pleasant and relaxing. Candles had been placed in the aisles but were not lit until the start of the service.
The church: While not strictly speaking Anglo-Catholic, All Saints nevertheless prides itself on its adherence to liturgical tradition. They have a very fine music program and are noted for their ecumenical work in the community. There is a rabbi in residence who preaches regularly.
The neighborhood: As one travels north on Phoenix's Central Avenue, one leaves the business district and enters the residential enclaves of the comfortably, quietly wealthy, as compared to the flashy, look-at-me wealthy of neighboring Scottsdale to the east. Think of Los Angeles' impossibly-rich-but-you'd-never-know-it Bel Air vs impossibly-rich-and-eat-your-heart-out Beverly Hills. The church sits at the southern edge of this bastion of comfort.
The cast: The Revd Canon Frank Clark was the officiant, assisted by the verger and a party of altar servers and lectors. The All Saints Women's Chant Choir, directed by Scott Youngs, provided the music. Sue Vaughn Westendorf, associate director of music, gave an organ recital before the service.
The date & time: Sunday, November 9, 2008, 6.30pm.

What was the name of the service?
Solemn Evensong with Organ Recital.

How full was the building?
The service was sparsely attended; I counted 50 people. Almost everyone sat toward the back, with only one or two souls venturing past the midpoint of the nave.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I did not arrive particularly early, but the parking lot was dark and the exterior of the church was lit only with what seemed to be utility or security lighting. I wondered if the event had been canceled. Then I saw some people inside the vestibule and so I went in. There were no greeters on hand, and no one said anything. We assembled our party in the lobby and then entered the nave as a group.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People sat quietly waiting for the organ recital to start. The service booklet requested that we refrain from applauding, adding the words Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone).

What were the exact opening words of the service?
(Chanted) "Light and peace in Jesus Christ, our Lord." The procession entered from the sacristy and consisted of thurifer in cassock and surplice, the verger in his robes of office, four acolytes in cassock and surplice, and the officiant in alb and green cope. The choir sang from the gallery.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A specially prepared service booklet containing the liturgy, readings, chants and hymns.

What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ, in good tune and well played by Ms Westendorf. For her recital she selected pieces by Sweelinck, JS Bach, and late Romantic and early contemporary composers with whom I was not familiar. (We could have done with one fewer of those, if truth be told.)

Did anything distract you?
The church was so quiet that the organ pistons made an audible thud as Ms Westendorf drew her stops. After the service had begun and the candles were lit, one of the altar candles did not take its flame well and sputtered throughout the whole time, in contrast to all the others that were burning brightly.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A by-the-book solemn evensong with incense and chanting. As the choir chanted the phos hilaron, the nave candles were lit and the altar was censed. The psalm, magnificat and nunc dimittis were chanted to Gregorian tones, with the people invited to join in only certain verses of the psalm (and I couldn't figure out the rationale for which verses the invitation was extended). A layman vested in cassock and cotta gave the readings. The Apostles' Creed and Lord's Prayer were chanted recto tono. We sang a traditional hymn at the conclusion of the service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was none.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This church knows its liturgy, and it was a joy to see everything progress so smoothly.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But I thought the service was cold, lifeless and dull. The church lights were not brought up, and the warm, prayerful pre-service lighting became dim, shadowy, altogether inadequate lighting for the service. The chanting of the women's choir seemed weak and timid – it would have helped to bring them downstairs into the sanctuary. Anglican chant as opposed to Gregorian tones would have livened things up also, as would have a chant setting for the Creed and Lord's Prayer rather than recto tono. And even a five-minute sermon would have given us a spin on the readings for the evening.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People stood around in small groups in the lobby visiting with each other; there was no inter-group mingling. Admittedly our group did the same, and if the others spotted us as strange faces, they must have concluded that we were content to remain within our own party. One of our group approached one of the choir members with a question, and reported back that the woman seemed distinctly uninterested in speaking with her.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was wine and cheese as well as coffee, soft drinks, cookies and cut-up squares of cake. Since we were headed out to dinner, I sampled only the coffee, which was an improvement over the weak, flavorless brew I had commented on during my last visit.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – It's a busy, involved church with a good music program and dignified approach to liturgy, but so cliquish and unfriendly! Alas, this hasn't improved in the intervening three years.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
How cold and unwelcoming the parking lot lighting and pre-service atmosphere seemed.
 
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