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2380: Calvin Presbyterian, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Calvin Presbyterian, Phoenix, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Calvin Presbyterian, Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Southern California Presbytery.
The building: A simple yet attractive wooden structure with a sharply pitched roof to which is attached a large cross. The inside is plain, with white walls and light brown carpeting. Along the left wall are plain glass windows that let in plenty of light; above the pulpit are two abstract stained glass windows.
The church: They hold all-age Sunday school each week, followed by a worship service (but it includes the Lordís Supper only once every other month, with the schedule helpfully posted on their website). They also hold a Sunday evening service plus Wednesday evening Bible study. A youth group meets once each month for singing, games and devotions. Iglesia Nueva Vida, a Spanish speaking mission, shares the church space.
The neighborhood: The church is located just east of 40th Street and south of Greenway Road, on a quiet working class residential street. Paradise Valley Hospital is nearby.
The cast: The Revd Michael L. Babcock, pastor; Elder Jim Blake.
The date & time: Sunday, May 13, 2012, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Morning Worship.

How full was the building?
I counted about 100 people and it was completely full. Mostly young families. Lots of young children and teenagers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Several people shook my hand, including a young man named Mark (who I later learned was Deacon Mark Miner), who said he was glad to see me. A lady sitting next to me introduced herself as Carol; we chatted briefly. Pastor Babcock shook my hand, introduced himself, and told me I was most welcome.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes Ė upholstered two-seater benches placed next to each other in pew-like rows.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived 15 minutes early to find things already underway. A gentleman was preaching to a room of about 30 people; his message was that we neednít deny pleasure but that we must be careful, as natural affections can lead to idolatry. He ended his talk with a prayer, after which a crowd of people who had been waiting in an adjoining room came in and mingled with those present. There was lots of talking and visiting, and it was during this time that several people greeted me as mentioned above. The pianist played a few hymns.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. The gathering hymn this morning is number 694: 'Lord, I lift my soul to thee'." This by Elder Blake.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Trinity Hymnal and a service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano, played very competently. An electronic organ remained shut and silent.

Did anything distract you?
I was sitting in the back row against the wall, and there was a continual parade of people going back and forth past me between the worship area and the adjoining room, I assume to use the facilities. There were also the obligatory one or two ringing cell phones and one or two babbling infants.

Calvin Presbyterian, Phoenix, AZ (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a hymn sandwich, with extended commentary. The hymns were all traditional, and everyone sang with gusto. Some of the commentary was a trifle on the wordy side, I thought. In the Lordís Prayer we asked God to "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."

Exactly how long was the sermon?
38 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – I think Pastor Babcock had a printed sermon in front of him, but he tried to sound extemporaneous. Some of his arguments and biblical references seemed a bit stretched. He mentioned twice that homosexuality is sinful.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The pastorís text was Jonah 3:1-9 (Jonah preaches Godís destruction to the city of Nineveh, but the king decrees fasting and penance in the hope of averting it). Good news! God can pull us up out of sin, no matter how deep. Godís grace is given through preaching Ė preachers are like Godís lawyers, pleading with the people to change their ways. God created all things; therefore all creation owes God its allegiance. There is a difference between believing "in" God and believing God. God could have snuffed out Nineveh in a flash; instead, he was patient while the people repented. Some feel that God is cruel, inflicting punishment on the innocent. Others canít wait to see God visit his wrath upon sinners who deserve it. But it is Godís right as creator to judge as he pleases. He is righteous Ė he must punish sin Ė but he is also gracious. He gives the wicked a chance to repent. We canít play games with God. Let us pray that God will raise up preachers who will bring Godís creation back to God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It was wonderful to see so many young families worshipping on a Sunday.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
So homosexuality is sinful, is it? And the pastor really didnít satisfactorily address the question of how a loving God can allow so much misfortune to occur.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People again shook my hand and said they were glad I had come. Carol, the lady next to me, said she hoped sheíd see me again.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
A reception was planned for one of the deacons who was moving to Tucson. Urns of coffee were brewing but were not quite ready yet for drinking. There were sandwiches, fruit salad and a cake set out, but I didnít feel like sitting through a round of good-bye, weíll miss you speeches, so I left without partaking.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – The people seemed very friendly and welcoming, and the worship was sincere without being dour, but I think Iím a little too worldly to embrace Orthodox Presbyterianism.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
"Preachers are like Godís lawyers" Ė thereís got to be a punch line somewhere in that.
 
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