Willowbrook, Sun City West (Exterior)

Willowbrook United Methodist, Sun City West, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Willowbrook United Methodist
Location: Sun City West, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 9 October 2011, 9:30am

The building

A nicely done modern stone building. The interior is bright and spacious, with pews angled in toward the center aisle. To the right is a stained glass wall; to the left choir seating and the organ case. Behind the altar is a large stained glass window depicting Christ blessing the children. A video screen had been set up to the right of the altar, but I gathered from people's conversations that it isn't usually there.

The church

The congregation was formed in 1976. They sponsor several fellowship groups such as creative writing classes, a hiking club, bowling, and bridge, as well as United Methodist Men and United Methodist Women. They also offer prayer ministries, a grief support group, outreaches to the homebound and the frail, and an Altzheimer's support group. They offer a Saturday evening informal service as well as a Sunday morning traditional service.

The neighborhood

The church is located on 99th Avenue north of Union Hills Drive in Sun City West, a retirement community to the northwest of Phoenix. Houses and condominiums tailored toward senior citizens predominate, as do golf courses, country clubs and parks.

The cast

The Revd Steve Marshall, associate pastor, gave the call to worship. The Revd Linda De Atley, associate pastor, led most of the service. The Revd Jon Ierley, senior pastor, preached. Robb Butler, music director; conducted a choir of 50 voices, assisted by Shara-Dawn Chambers at the organ and piano.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Morning Worship.

How full was the building?

There was room for about 400. I'd say the church was about seven-eights full. All old people, but you'd expect that given the demographics of Sun City West.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

As I entered the lobby, several people said good morning. Two delightful ladies named Inez and Anne were sitting at the visitors table. They greeted me warmly and asked me to sign the guest book. One of them began to fill out a name tag for me, but I protested. "How about a hug, then?" she asked. "We like to hug here!" Inside the sanctuary, ushers in red vests greeted everyone, gave out programs, and helped people find seats.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes - wooden pew with cushion.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very talkative as people greeted and visited with each other, but not boisterous.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"As we gather, let us do so with the realization that we are in the presence of God." This was followed by a piano meditation and about ten minutes worth of announcements.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The United Methodist Hymnal; The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version; and a service leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?

Pipe organ and grand piano. Shara-Dawn Chambers played well, but I think she is a better pianist than she is organist.

Did anything distract you?

The choir were dressed in white shirts or blouses and black slacks; the director and accompanist all in black. Some of the men (and women too) had rather large bellies that the white shirts didn't flatter.

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

A Protestant hymn sandwich: lots of announcements, prayers, meditations, choral anthems, congregational hymns. No communion service today.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

20 minutes.

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

8 – Pastor Ierley spoke without notes in a friendly, down-to-earth manner.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

A short video was shown (hence the presence of the screen) about a man who had experienced a number of personal setbacks just at the time his church was asking for contributions to a building program. "A hustle," he thought. "They just want to put their hands in my pocket." But he soon realized that he needed a new start in life, that God's love was missing. If he couldn't trust God, whom could he trust? He would just throw his money away on whiskey and women. Why not take a chance on God? The pastor segued from this video into a talk on stewardship. We don't take chances on God - God is a sure thing! God transforms us. Now is the time not only to receive from God, but to share God's gifts with others. We have an opportunity to do something significant for God. We don't have to be geniuses, but we have to be faithful. We have to "be real" with Christ, and that requires self-appraisal. We must come forward when called.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I know the music director, Robb Butler, so I don't want to sound too biased. But the choir sang marvelously. Proof positive that even a group of old ladies and old men can sound great under the guidance of a director who knows his stuff.

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

Well, those choir bellies! Among their many fellowship activities, this church could use a healthy eating group.

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

Several people in my pew and the pew in front of me said that they hoped I had liked the service and would be back.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Good coffee served in styrofoam cups. Iced tea and lemonade were also available. And plates of cookies, including one plate of sugar-free cookies. What a great idea!

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

6 – I am not drawn toward Methodism - too non-conformist for me. But if I were, this church would be an attractive choice.

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

Yes. A friendly, caring congregation, busy with lots of activities.

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

Being hugged by Inez and Anne at the newcomers' table.

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