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2540: St Gabriel the Archangel, Cave Creek, Arizona, USA
St Gabriel the Archangel, Cave Creek, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Old Rackensack.
The church: St Gabriel the Archangel, Cave Creek, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Phoenix.
The building: A large concrete structure looking more like a warehouse than a church. Upon entering via a portico shaded by trees and watched over by a statue of the Blessed Mother, one finds oneself within a spacious foyer off which opens the main hall. The hall itself is rectangular, oblong, and very plain, with beige walls, brown ceramic tile floor, and metal-girdered ceiling with exposed HVAC units and industrial lighting fixtures. Acoustic panels have been placed behind the altar.
The church: Their ministries include Hands of Love, a group that crochets prayer shawls for people who are ill or suffering from a loss; Holy Scrappers, who help families create photo albums and other memorabilia; and Monicaís Circle, a support group for widows. They also sponsor Boy Scouts, Knights of Columbus, the St Vincent de Paul Society, and other such organizations.
The neighborhood: Cave Creek, founded as a gold mining community in the late 19th century, is today a well-to-do suburb on the northeastern fringes of the Phoenix metropolitan area. Little remains of the original town, but new structures have been put up for the sake of the tourist trade to resemble a Wild West boom town with beaucoup money poured into it. Famous residents include one Ralph Hubert Barger, better known as Sonny Barger, founder and past president of the Oakland, California chapter of the notorious Hells Angels outlaw biker gang. Now in his mid 70s, Barger has become an elder statesman of sorts, supporting local benevolent organizations and working to increase public awareness of motorcycle safety.
The cast: The Revd Dennis OíRourke, pastor. Iím going to assume that the deacon was the Revd Mr Robert Torigian, although his name was not given and his photo does not appear on their website. Mary Blanche, music director, was in charge of the music. There were also three young ladies who served as crucifer and acolytes.
The date & time: Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord (Transferred), May 12, 2013, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Mass.

How full was the building?
I counted about 600 chairs. The building was full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. Six of the chairs were marked "Reserved For Ushers" but no ushers were in evidence until it was time to take up the collection.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes Ė upholstered metal chair with pull-out kneeler under the chair in front. The kneelers made quite a racket when everyone pulled them out at the beginning of the eucharistic prayer.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People entered quietly, with some quiet hugging and hand-shaking. The musicians rehearsed. Just before the start of mass, the music director attempted to rehearse the gospel acclamation and the Gloria (alas, every painful verse of it) with the congregation Ė in vain, as hardly anyone sang.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Please rise and greet your neighbor."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A music handout with words only except for the Gloria, and a laminated card entitled Congregational Responses for Mass.

What musical instruments were played?
Grand piano, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, trumpet, saxophone, drums. There were also five vocalists: two men and three women.

Did anything distract you?
There were many latecomers who scrambled to find seats (where, oh where, were the ushers?). As the liturgy did not hold my attention, I busied myself observing the many beautiful people in the congregation. One gentleman resembled my brother (who, if truth be told, I would not number among the beautiful people). One elderly gentleman wore a back brace. There was the usual chorus of crying babies.

St Gabriel the Archangel, Cave Creek, AZ (Interior) height=

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Not the most perfunctory novus ordo mass Iíve ever observed, but not the most reverent either. The music consisted of the usual artless, tuneless ditties that line the bottom of the pit into which the rich musical heritage of the Church of Rome has fallen Ė with one almost notable exception mentioned below. Only a small handful of the congregation sang. There were no bells or incense Ė in fact, the elements were not even elevated at the consecration; Father merely held them out in front of him. In lieu of the Nicene Creed we renewed out baptismal vows, followed by a generous sprinkling ministered via hyssop branches dipped into glass bowls of holy water.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
7 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Father read his homily rapidly from notes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Everyone can probably remember someone who was a mentor in their lives Ė someone who may have been with us only a short time but whose impact has lasted a lifetime. Such was the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. He set an example for his disciples that persevered despite his physical absence. He left them the resources they needed, and promised to give them even more gifts that they didnít as of yet fully understand. Jesus ascended to heaven to represent us before the Father, and he will come again to claim us for his own. His example, and the effect he has had on mankind, perseveres even 2000 years later.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This began as a hellish bit but turned heavenly. At the Lordís Prayer the gentleman next to me made for to hold my hand, but I brushed him off. When the prayer had finished, he turned to me and said, "I didnít mean to be forward, but Iím out of my element. I donít usually come to church, but yesterday my father died, and I'm a wreck." He then put his head down and appeared to be crying. I wanted to hug him. But just as I turned to do so, he got up and left. So much for the hellish bit. How this turned heavenly will become evident in a moment.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
And this one began heavenly but turned out hellish! At communion, just when I had succeeded in tuning the music out completely, I heard the pianist begin those exquisite arpeggios that make up the opening bars of Schubertís Ave Maria. The music director then began to sing the Latin words. Ah, heaven, I thought. But she had a tendency to lag behind the piano and she didnít bother to sing the second verse, thus leaving the prayer unfinished. Worst of all, she never even put her guitar down, although thankfully she didnít play it.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Before the dismissal, it being Mothers Day, mothers were asked to stand for a special blessing. Then, as the recessional passed up the aisle, people started to leave. No one took notice of me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
A tent had been set up outdoors for a special party to bid farewell to the associate pastor, who was taking a leave of absence for reasons of health. But the good padre did not appear. There were donuts and a very nice vanilla cake with crŤme filling. Coffee and lemonade were also available Ė the coffee, unfortunately, was bitter and a bit stale. I spotted the gentleman whose father had died, and went up to him and apologized for not having held his hand during the Lordís Prayer. I told him I thought he needed a hug, and gave him one. He introduced me to his mother and to a friend, and then asked me if I would please give him another hug, which I was glad to do.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – Cave Creek is on the other side of the valley from where I lived, but even if I lived in the area I probably wouldnít make this my home church. There are other churches close by Ė Lutheran, Baptist, Episcopal, independent Anglican Ė which I will put on my list to look into.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The mass didnít, but hugging the bereaved gentleman did.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
How well the Ave Maria began but how quickly it went downhill Ė and the bereaved gentleman.
 
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