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2699: New Song, Surprise, Arizona, USA
New Song UMC, Surprise, AZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Old Rackensack.
The church: New Song, Surprise, Arizona, USA.
Denomination: United Methodist Church.
The building: A plain concrete structure on a rather barren plot of land. The inside is also plain, with beige walls and grey-green carpeting. A communion table rests on a stage, with pulpit to the left and two digital keyboards to the right. There is a small library area in the rear.
The church: They have a women’s book discussion group and women’s Bible study group (strangely, I saw no mention of men’s groups) plus small "Sharing/Caring" groups that meet at various times and in various places for discussion, prayer and fellowship. They also host a chapter of the Red Hat Ladies, a nationwide informal network of women middle-aged and over who meet for civic and social activities and are known for the outlandish red hats that they wear. There are two services each Sunday, one traditional and one contemporary.
The neighborhood: When plans were first laid to develop the far northwest corner of the Phoenix metropolitan area, people said that if such a remote region ever became a city, it would be a surprise. Today, the city of Surprise is one of the fastest growing communities in the area. The city is made up almost entirely of new single-family and condominium housing interspersed with modern shopping malls. There are also large expanses of vacant land waiting to be snatched up by developers. The Surprise Sports Complex is spring training home for the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers baseball teams. The church sits on Bell Road just east of the expressway known as the Loop 303, a largely undeveloped part of Surprise.
The cast: The Revd Louie Lyon, a retired pastor who is now a member of the congregation, was the guest preacher and officiated at the service. Markita South read the scripture lesson. Henry Smith conducted the choir. Pastor Lyon wore a lace-trimmed alb, cincture, white stole and pectoral cross.
The date & time: Seventh Sunday after Easter (Ascension Sunday), June 1, 2014, 9.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Spirited Traditional Worship.

How full was the building?
I counted room for about 200 and I’d say it was about two-thirds full. Mostly an elderly crowd – just one or two younger people. If there were any Red Hat Ladies there, they left their hats at home.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A teenage girl sitting in a chair handed me a bulletin in silence. One or two people said hello.

Was your pew comfortable?
Upholstered chairs – comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of loud talking coming from people congregating around the doors, but more subdued talking inside. I did find the noise level disturbing, though. One of the prayers included the language "We confess that our silence is noisy … how hard we find it to be still and rest." That pretty much describes it.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
United Methodist Hymnal, a paperback New Testament, New International Version, and a bulletin. All readings, prayers and words to the songs (but not the notes) were projected, however.

What musical instruments were played?
Digital keyboard. There was also a choir.

New Song UMC, Surprise, AZ (Choir)

Did anything distract you?
One young gentleman sported one of those beards that you’d just love to take a scissors to.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A Methodist hymn sandwich. Service of the table (communion) was included today, and it consisted of a fairly standard eucharistic prayer with epiclesis and the words of institution. We received communion in the form of a morsel of fresh, chewy bread broken off a large loaf, which we then dipped into a ceramic chalice of grape juice.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Pastor Lyon spoke very softly and conversationally and included quite a few personal anecdotes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It is a mistake to think that eternal life begins at the moment of death – it begins at the moment we accept Jesus into our lives. We all have hardships to live through, but through prayer we can go to God and expect to hear him. God’s strength comes to us through a personal relationship with him. If we put God first, God will put everything else in its proper place. The things of the world will not bring us peace. We need to take the first step – to go out and try to speak to God. We can’t lose!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Throughout Pastor Lyon's sermon there was a palpable silence in the room – not a sound out of anyone! As the old cliché has it, you could hear a pin drop, but no pin dropped.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I’m afraid I’m going to have to fault the music. The digital keyboardist chose a piano stop with strings (and a harpsichord stop, I think, for the choir anthem) and generally did not play loud enough. I missed the support of a good organ. The choir would sound better if they looked up from their music, opened their mouths, and breathed with their diaphragms. And the hymns, although traditional, were mostly from the "Jesus is my boyfriend" end of the United Methodist Hymnal rather than from the Wesley end.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The loud visiting started up again. I tried to walk around to examine some of the wall hangings and stage appointments but had to dodge groups of old people who managed to block every aisle, every doorway, as they visited amongst themselves.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee had been announced, but I saw no evidence of where it was being held, so I left.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – No men’s groups in evidence, no young people in the congregation (perhaps they all go to the contemporary service), humdrum music – not for me.

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

New Song UMC, Surprise, AZ (Pastor)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The palpable silence during Pastor Lyon's sermon.
 
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