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2561: Lord of Life, Sun City West, Arizona, USA
Lord of Life, Sun City West, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Lord of Life, Sun City West, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The building: A modern stone structure. The inside is hexagonal in shape, bright and spacious, with green carpeting. Two of the seating areas can be closed off via folding doors to make for a smaller space when desired.
The church: Among their many ministries are a book discussion group, a bowling team, and SOLOS, a fellowship group for single seniors, in addition to a Stephen ministry, prayer chain, Bible study, etc., all documented on their website. They maintain an especially ambitious music program, supporting six vocal choirs and a handbell choir as well as a full schedule of organ recitals and hymn festivals.
The neighborhood: Nestled among Phoenix’s northwest suburbs, Sun City West was begun in the late 1970s as an extension of Sun City, one of the first of a group of retirement communities developed by real estate magnate Del E. Webb. Sun City West is decidedly upscale, decidedly Caucasian, and almost entirely comprised of elderly folk. The church is on Meeker Boulevard at the corner of RH Johnson Boulevard, a busy commercial area of supermarkets, medical offices and shops. A Jewish synagogue is next door; a Christian Science church is down the next block.
The cast: The Revd Terry Pletkovich, interim pastor; the Revd Janice M. Brosen, associate pastor for congregational life. Pastor Terry wore a short-sleeved gray clerical shirt with pectoral cross and black trousers; Pastor Jan a black blouse with blue designs and blue slacks. Gloria Lien, minister of music, presided at the organ. A woman identified only as Lorraine played piano.
The date & time: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 7, 2013, 9.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Worship.

How full was the building?
About seven-eights full. All elderly, all well dressed, in keeping with the demographics of the area.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Greeters shook my hand and said, "Good morning. Good to see you here."

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes – wooden pew, upholstered in the same color as the carpeting.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Noisy, lots of visiting. The level of chatter diminished but did not disappear completely as the organist and pianist began their prelude, a fantasia on Battle Hymn of the Republic. This was met with applause despite the admonition in the service leaflet that "Our music is to the glory of God, no applause needed."

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Welcome to worship."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Evangelical Lutheran Worship and a service leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ, grand piano, trumpet. The organ is opus 30 of Orgelbau Glatter-Götz of Pfullendorf, Germany. The installation was begun in July 2010 and the instrument is now undergoing its final voicing; the dedication is scheduled for January 2014.

Lord of Life, Sun City West, AZ (Interior)

Did anything distract you?
The back of the church was lined with an assortment of walkers and wheelchairs that had apparently been valet-parked.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Basically your standard Western-style liturgy, perhaps a little more informal than seen elsewhere. The service music did nothing to belie my contention that Lutheran service music is unsingable, although the congregation seemed to be doing pretty well with it. The hymns were all old stand-bys; we even did "Blest be the tie that binds" at communion! In the Apostles Creed we said that we believed in the holy catholic (small c) church. The Lord’s Prayer was the modern-language version, which always irks me. At communion we were asked to intinct the wafer into wine or grape juice as we preferred. One was in a chalice, one in a glass; I assumed that the chalice held the wine, but I was wrong – either that or it was very weak wine.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
17 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Pastor Terry spoke well without using notes. He peppered his sermon with several personal anecdotes, some rather humorous.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was the gospel for the day, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 (Jesus commissions the seventy). The disciples were confronted with a challenge and were given few resources to cope with it. Yet they embraced the challenge and were rewarded. It is the same with us. Challenges will always present us with opportunities for growth. Things don’t always turn out as expected, but if we go beyond our comfort zone the reward can be great. We should embrace the opportunity to be bearers of the kingdom of God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The gospel hymn was "A song of peace", to the tune Finlandia. A very inspiring hymn, and a heavenly tune.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The six choirs are off for the summer, and so anthems were replaced by solos. One soloist sang an arrangement of "Amazing Grace" that would have been heavenly had he been able to sing on pitch and catch his breath. At the offertory, a trumpet soloist played a fantasia on America the Beautiful with organ accompaniment – that, too, would have been heavenly (if a bit loud) had he been able to match his rhythm to that of the organist (although she did a pretty good job of adapting to him).

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I remained seated to hear the organ postlude, a fantasia on God Save the Queen – oops, I mean America – but I was the only one who did. Everyone else left quickly, galloping past my pew and retrieving their walkers and wheelchairs without so much as a glance in my direction.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Assorted cookies and iced tea – no coffee, though – were available in the parish hall. The tea was fresh, strong and unsweetened – exactly as I like it. People settled in groups at tables with their refreshments, but again, no one paid me any attention. I snapped a photo of a rather ominous sign on the wall (see below) and studied some rather interesting oil paintings that were displayed for sale, and eventually left.

Lord of Life, Sun City West, AZ (Sign)

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – I always have mixed feelings about visiting the various Sun Cities. I am no spring chicken anymore – far from it – but I’m not yet ready to join the walker and oxygen bottle set that seems to make up most of the population. I've visited some very friendly churches in the area as well as some very unfriendly ones – this one fits decidedly into the latter category, I’m afraid.

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?
"A song of peace" to Finlandia – truly beautiful.
 
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