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1720: St Paul's, Payson, Arizona, USA
St Paul’s, Payson, Arizona, USA
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: St Paul's, Payson, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Arizona.
The building: An attractive little A-frame structure of light brown brick and dark brown wood, with a parish hall in a similar style to the left. Inside, the light brown brick motif is repeated, with a white stucco ceiling and blue carpeting.
The church: Two eucharists are celebrated each Sunday, with a Taizé service added on the last Sunday of each month. There is also a eucharist and healing service on Wednesdays. Adult and children's Sunday school are offered, as well as Bible study classes.
The neighborhood: The town of Payson sits about 100 miles northeast of Phoenix at the base of the Mogollon Rim, an area of geologic uplift characterized by abrupt elevation changes and vast forests of Ponderosa pine. Payson is a popular tourist destination featuring outdoor recreational opportunities such as hiking, camping and rock climbing. Zane Grey (1872-1939), author of many novels and short stories depicting the rugged Wild West of yesteryear, had a cabin north of Payson and used the area as a backdrop for several of his writings. Neglected for years, Grey's cabin was destroyed by fire in 1990, but in 2003 a replica was built that today is maintained as a museum. The church is located on the wonderfully named Easy Street, in a quiet, woodsy residential area of simple but well maintained homes.
The cast: The Revd Daniel Tantimonaco, rector, was the celebrant, and Mr John Zilisch, licensed lay preacher, gave the sermon. Assisting were Janet Zilisch, crucifer and acolyte; John Hurlburt, lector; and David Gilbert, organist.
The date & time: Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday), May 3, 2009, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?
I counted room for about 60 and it was a full house. The congregation were all elderly, predominantly women. I saw maybe one or two people under 50.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived 15 minutes early but no greeters were on hand and the church was empty. After I sat down in the back row, I noticed that greeters stationed themselves at the doors and were welcoming people as they arrived. The organist, on his way up the stairs to the gallery, shook my hand and said hello.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. Wooden pews with plush red upholstery – very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The organist played a few selections and people were quiet for the most part. However, one woman stationed herself in the back pew where I was sitting and loudly greeted all her friends with hellos, hugs and kisses (apparently not noticing me, though). It got so boisterous after a while that I had to change my seat.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Nice to see everyone this morning." This by the rector, who then asked visitors to introduce themselves. After that there were about 10 minutes' worth of announcements.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Prayer Book 1979, Hymnal 1982, and a spiral bound booklet entitled The Sundays of Easter, which contained the liturgy for Rite II. Another hymnal, Worship and Praise, was also in the pews but was not used.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ – a very nice electronic instrument up in the gallery. I thought at first it was a pipe organ, but upon glancing up I saw no pipes. The instrument testifies to the fact that a small church need not suffer for want of a decent organ.

Did anything distract you?
The amount of visiting going on at the back of the church before the service, especially by the woman who turned my pew into a welcome wagon, was most distracting. Changing my seat made things a bit better, but in a church this small the noise couldn't help but intrude on prayer and meditation.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A typical Rite II low mass with bells but no incense or chanting. Father was vested in amice, alb, girdle, white stole and white chasuble. Mr Zilisch, the preacher, wore alb and girdle plus a blue preaching scarf. Mrs Zilisch (the preacher's wife), crucifer and acolyte, wore only an alb. Father read the gospel from the midst of the congregation but there was no gospel procession as such – Mrs Zilisch neither bore the processional cross nor a candle, nor did she hold the gospel book for Father. The communion bread (about which I'll have more to say later) was consecrated in a glass bowl, the wine in a proper silver chalice. We sang well-chosen traditional hymns with plenty of gusto.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
19 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Mr Zilisch actually gave two separate sermons, reading each of them from notes but trying to make it all sound informal and colloquial. Why two sermons? Either would have done nicely.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The first sermon was on happiness. Are we happy? A survey conducted in 2006 showed that 87 per cent of Americans were not happy with their lives – and this despite prosperous times. Surprisingly, two years later – in troubled times – the same survey showed an increase in the number of people who said they were happy. It seems that since we can't spend money like we used to, our focus is clearer. People pull together in adversity. Church attendance is even growing. The second sermon was on the Good Shepherd, it being Good Shepherd Sunday. This is perhaps the most famous of all analogies. Jesus is alive in many ways and in many disguises, but he still walks with us. Sometimes things happen in our lives that make us feel close to Jesus – sometimes not. We may wander, but Jesus gently coaxes us back, often via many influences. Jesus is always with us, perhaps in disguise. God is not "up there in the clouds" – he is inside of us, and this makes it easy for us to do the right thing.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The level of participation was intense, both for the prayers and for the singing. Everyone was clearly there to worship; no one was there because they felt they had to be.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The communion bread was in the form of a cube. As I received it in my hands, I felt something powdery on the surface. After I intincted it and consumed it, I realized that the powdery substance was cinnamon sugar! I'm not sure whether cinnamon sugar bread cubes are a proper form of communion bread.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people shook my hand, introduced themselves, and said it was nice that I had come. I also shook hands with the preacher and celebrant, both of whom made sure I knew that coffee was being served in the parish hall.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were several kinds of cookies, pound cake, date and nut bread, cut-up fruit, and cheese and crackers, along with good strong hot coffee served in mugs bearing the name of the church and a line drawing of same. I'm afraid I "forgot" to turn my mug in after I had finished my coffee.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – This could easily be my church home if I lived in Payson, but I'd like to see more young people in the congregation. There was no mention of ministries or outreaches, but I think an outreach to the under-40 crowd would be in order. I am sure that such folk live in Payson.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I liked being part of a congregation who all knew one another and seemed glad to be in each other's company.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
My "souvenir" mug will keep the events of the day alive. It will take its rightful place among my Ship of Fools mugs and other mugs that I've gathered from various churches over time.
 
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