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Olive Lutheran, Tucson, Arizona, USA
Olive Lutheran, Tucson, Arizona, USA.
Four tall pines flank this unpretentious boxy flat roof adobe-like
structure. My initial impression of the interior was that it
looked like the traditional churches of my childhood: a dozen
wooden pews with padded seating, low ceiling and a sense of
timelessness. The front of the church had two floral arrangements
on small shelves in front of darker wooden vertical paneled
strips. Candelabrae flank the altar, with the organ on the left
and the podium on the right. Near the organ on the right side
is a beautiful needlepoint of the Last Supper, one of the few
remaining articles of devotion in use since Mount Olive's earliest
history. The windows are not stained glass, but rather the faceted
glass known as dalle de verre or slab glass.
One of the first things I noticed was the high percentage of
"seasoned saints." I learned later that many of the congregants
are what we in Tucson call "snowbirds", meaning they reside
here only in the winter months. This does not seem to hinder
some substantial ministry and service activities that go on
at the church. This particular Sunday, the Ladies Guild was
presented with a United States flag that had been flown in Afghanistan,
as a thank-you for donations raised for the military at Christmastime.
Every Wednesday morning, a group gathers to work on producing
bibles in Braille. On the church's website appears the statement:
"We confess the unaltered Augsburg Confession." In this age
of ecumenism, when visiting a Lutheran church, I want to find
the real deal, not something that would be unrecognizable to
The church building is located off a fairly busy two-lane road
on the outskirts of Tucson, on a large desert-landscaped lot
with mountain views in the background and surrounded by prickly
pear cacti and other desert foliage. Nearby are two other churches
on similar lots, and the trio are surrounded by rather well-to-do
neighborhoods of single family homes of prime Tucson real estate
(again, large lots with mountain views).
The Revd Jon D. Scicluna, pastor, officiated, with Melba Middendorf
presiding at the organ. Louis Burmeister III was the acolyte,
Dick Reid the lector. Ushers were Tony Potter and Richard Ziegler.
The date & time:
January 11, 2009, 10.00am.
What was the name of the
How full was the building?
Did anyone welcome you
I was greeted at the door by friendly ladies handing out the
bulletins. As I sat down, the woman next to me in the pew smiled
and said hello.
Was your pew comfortable?
The traditional wooden pews were padded and quite comfortable.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
Before the service, there was a fair amount of friendly chatter,
with people greeting one another.
What were the exact opening
words of the service?
The unconventional first words of the service were: "Louis's
mother had surgery this week." (Referring to Louis Burmeister
III, the acolyte.) This was followed by sharing of other church
members' prayer needs. Then the pastor asked visitors to make
themselves known as he walked down the center aisle.
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
The Lutheran Service Book. Some congregants had a few
enlarged pages of songs and words stapled together in sheet
protectors (I wanted one of those!).
What musical instruments
Did anything distract
There were moments when I was distracted by the faceted windows,
as I was sitting right next to them. The sun was shining through
them, and they were so colorful and beautiful! My home church
does not have stained glass, so perhaps this is why I was so
captivated by them. I was often tempted to keep turning my head
to look at the windows!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
The worship at Mount Olive was very traditional. The Divine
Service II was used. There were a few familiar hymns such as
"Come Thou Almighty King." A lesser-known hymn was sung called
"Mark How the Lamb of God's Self Offering." Its lyrics told
of the baptism of Christ and its meaning , and concluded with
the challenge to stay true to our own baptisms. The hymns were
accompanied by a proficient organist, and were sung with enthusiasm
and warmth. The whole service was very Christ-centered.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
9 Pastor Scicluna has a resonant and pleasant voice,
and sounded like he could be on radio. He also has a good singing
voice, and did some short chants during the service. But I came
away from the service remembering more about the content of
the sermon than the personality of the pastor.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
Pastor Scicluna spoke on our identification with the death and
resurrection of Christ, taking Romans 6 as his text. It was
encouraging to be reminded that no matter what happens in this
coming new year, and no matter what our failings, we as believers
have died with Christ and have been made alive with him. This
is our great hope and confidence, all that has been given us
by God because of Christ, and it all stands firm and unshakeable
come what may.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
I'm always moved and inspired by the recitation of the Apostles'
Creed and the Lord's Prayer in a body of believers. We affirm
our unity with all believers in far-off times and far-off places,
and nothing new or innovative can compare. Being a small church,
there was that warm feeling of familiarity among the people.
When prayer needs for health situations were being mentioned,
people in the pews felt free to call out additional information
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
I felt a bit awkward during the sharing of the peace, since
this is not a tradition in my home church. (We have a greeting
time, during which you can hear all kinds of things, from "God
bless" or "Welcome" to "Hey, whazup?") It seemed to go on for
quite a long time, and each person seemed to use slightly different
wording. I caught on eventually, though, and was soon feeling
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
I had a most enjoyable time after the service, as several people
came up to introduce themselves and greet me. I had the privilege
of meeting a retired Lutheran pastor, who also served as a chaplain
during the Vietnamese War. He told me some about his experiences
of doing different types of services for the soldiers, even
charismatic! I had the chance to inquire whether or not Lutherans
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
After the service, most of the people filed into the next room
for a fellowship time. There was fresh and tasty coffee served
in styrofoam cups. There was also a nice spread of various cookies,
even sugar free. An unexpected bonus was the offer of free grapefruit
to anyone who wanted some!
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 This place seemed like a community of fellow believers
who would welcome me into their midst not only on Sunday mornings
but also for book club, home fellowship and brown bag lunches.
Did the service make you
feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you
remember about all this in seven days' time?
What I will remember? One of the congregants actually said,
"We'll see you next week."
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