First Presbyterian, Peoria, AZ (Exterior)

First Presbyterian, Peoria, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: First Presbyterian
Location: Peoria, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 24 December 2011, 5:00pm

The building

A traditional red brick church. Dedicated in 1900, it is the oldest Presbyterian church in continual use in Arizona. The inside is L-shaped, with pews in each arm of the L and a raised platform at a 45-degree angle at the junction. A table with communion vessels sat in front of the platform. To the right was an Advent wreath with candles; to the left a Nativity creche.

The church

They offer Bible study, children's ministry, and an assortment of groups for men and women.

The neighborhood

The church is located in the historic downtown district of Peoria, a suburb of Phoenix. Originally little more than a collection of wooden shacks with tin roofs, the downtown area was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1917. But tragedy was turned to advantage as property owners were prompted to rebuild in a more permanent and aesthetically appealing style. Over the years the city of Peoria annexed thousands of acres of surrounding land, but the historic core remains - a little worse for wear nowadays, but with some interesting structures such as First Presbyterian Church; an agricultural museum that includes a blacksmith shop as well as tractors, plows, and other farm implements from days gone by; the old jail house (used for awhile as City Council chambers - what does that say about politics?); and others.

The cast

The service was conducted by Elder Ken Johnson. The Revd Patricia Young, pastor, preached and presided over communion. Susan Cooper played the organ, and Helen Cook conducted the children's choir. A woman whose name was not given played a digital piano.

What was the name of the service?

Celebration of Carols, Communion and Candles.

How full was the building?

The church holds about 300 and was completely full, with chairs set up in the aisles to accommodate the overflow.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A lady at the door said, "Hello. How are you?" and gave me a service sheet.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes - cushioned wooden pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Lots of visiting and talking. The organist played a quiet medley of Christmas carols. The church bell was rung.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"OK, it's my turn to talk." This by Elder Johnson.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Presbyterian Hymnal; The Holy Bible, New International Version; and a service leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?

Electric organ and digital piano. There was a children's choir of about 12 first and second graders, plus one young adult.

Did anything distract you?

A lady entered with a seeing eye dog, which proceeded to snuggle in at her feet. I think the dog enjoyed the feel of the carpet against its hind quarters, as it wiggled its rump around every so often. A teenage boy sitting next to me played video games on his cell phone throughout the service. I was not surprised that his mother didn't correct him, as she chugged water from a plastic bottle at regular intervals. He did, however, seem interested in my note-taking, so I let him have a glimpse of the Mystery Worship calling card before I sealed it in the offering envelope.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

It started out homey and folksy. Elder Johnson seemed rather befuddled, much to the amusement of the congregation. The Advent candles were lit as passages from Isaiah were read. There were carols, confession and assurance of pardon, and a gospel reading. Things took a more serious turn after the sermon, when the pastor began the communion service. We received the bread cubes and thimbles of grape juice pew-style.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

5 minutes (childrens talk); 5 minutes (adult sermon).

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

5 – Pastor Young spoke very fast, as if she had a deadline to meet. She made many good points but didn't pause to let them sink in before moving on to the next. I could barely keep up with my note-taking!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

(Children's) God sent the baby Jesus as a sign of love. This is Jesus' birthday. And what is a birthday without presents? (Here the pastor passed out small gifts to all the children.) (Adults) Christmas is a celebration of the gift of life - and what a gift Jesus gave us: hope, peace, love, forgiveness and guidance. Some are afraid of God and cannot accept his love. That's why God came as a baby - almost everybody loves a baby. But the baby grew up and became intimately involved in our lives. Christmas is an opportunity for God to touch us in a special way.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I was pleasantly surprised by communion at a candlelight Christmas eve service. It was a pleasure to sing carols to the organist, Susan Cooper's, skilled accompaniment, even if she was a little heavy on the vibrato. And the way the service ended was especially heavenly (see below).

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The children's choir sounded about how you would expect a group of first and second graders to sound.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

After communion, we were invited to take candles and proceed outside, where we sang "Silent Night" and received a blessing.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

3 – This homey, folksy sort of service is not to my taste, although things did settle down by communion time.

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

Yes, especially the singing of "Silent Night."

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

"Silent Night" by candlelight.

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