Palo Cristi Presbyterian, Paradise Valley, AZ

Palo Cristi Presbyterian, Paradise Valley, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Palo Cristi Presbyterian
Location: Paradise Valley, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 April 2012, 9:30am

The building

A nondescript modern all-purpose building containing classrooms and a meeting hall. The hall is triangular, with chairs arranged in a semicircle facing a communion table at the vertex. Handbell tables stood to the right, along with an electronic organ and grand piano. A projection screen stood to the left.

The church

The congregation was formed in 1987 when two churches merged that had shared the same facilities. Today, Palo Cristi is a very active congregation, with dozens of ministries and groups for all ages; these are well documented on their website. The bulletin advertised an upcoming strawberry festival, with ice cream, strawberries and cake. Sounded luscious! Childrens and adult education classes meet each Sunday after the weekly service. Palo Cristi also supports More Light Presbyterians, a nationwide ministry dedicated to the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the Church.

The neighborhood

Paradise Valley is a small (15 square miles) but very affluent suburb just northeast of Phoenix. It is dominated by multi-million-dollar homes snuggled among the peaks and canyons of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Such notables as boxing greats Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, former Supreme Court justices Sandra Day OConnor and the late William Rehnquist, and former Vice President Dan Quayle have homes in Paradise Valley, along with dozens of other prominent persons from the world of politics, sports and the arts. The church is located on Lincoln Drive just east of 32nd Street.

The cast

The Revd Linda Worsnop, interim pastor (they are currently in an interregnum), led the service, preached, and presided over communion. Music was under the direction of Matt Erikson.

What was the name of the service?

Service of Worship.

How full was the building?

I counted about 100 chairs and there were only one or two vacant. The congregation were a goodly mix of all ages, but I saw few teenagers (lots of younger children, though).

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A lady at the door said, "Good morning and welcome. Here is a palm branch for you." She handed me a sprig of greenery.

Was your pew comfortable?

The chairs were well padded and very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Lots of visiting, talking and laughing. Mr Erikson played a Chopin waltz on the piano.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning. Welcome to worship here at Palo Cristi on this festive Palm Sunday." As we sang "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna" to the tune of Ellacombe, the children marched about the room waving their sprigs of greenery. They then left for Sunday school after a brief children's talk.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Presbyterian Hymnal and a service leaflet. All the parts of the service were projected onto a screen.

What musical instruments were played?

Grand piano and an electronic organ. A handbell choir also played one number.

Did anything distract you?

A gentleman sitting several rows in front of me was wearing a very obvious toupee.

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

Sober yet joyful. It pretty much followed the standard Western liturgical format. The hymns were all traditional; some people waved their sprigs of greenery during every hymn. The exchange of peace involved hearty handshakes all around. Communion was in the form of a large round loaf that the minister broke in two, and from which we all tore off a morsel before dipping it into the chalice of grape juice. We went forward for communion - it was not done "pew style", as I've seen in other Presbyterian churches.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

9 – I liked Pastor Worsnops style as well as her message. She spoke from notes, but in a very conversational manner, making good eye contact. She said that Mark's account of Christ's entry into Jerusalem was the only one that mentioned "leafy branches", not "palms" per se.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Pastor Worsnop's text was Mark 11:1-11 (Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem). Jesus entered Jerusalem a hero, surrounded by those who loved and admired him for the miracles he had wrought. But he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, i.e. as a humble man, not as a conquering hero. No one believed Jesus' own prediction that he was about to face death. No one understood the price that would have to be paid for the change that Jesus was about to bring to the world. But Jesus knew that the adoring crowd would soon turn ugly. And we, too, know the story now. We must walk slowly toward Easter, understanding what it means to be a servant. Only when we realize the sacrifice that is involved can we understand God's love.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

As Pastor Worsnop recounted the things that would happen to Jesus as he walked toward the Cross, I felt a growing chill up my spine. And the silence in the congregation was palpable.

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

The hymns were pitched too high for comfortable singing - everyone was straining at the high notes. And the electric organ had a woofy, boomy sound as if the swell pedal were pressed a little too far in. Mr Erikson would have been better advised to stick to the piano. Finally, as we sang the doxology, we sang praise to the "Creator, Word, and Holy Ghost." I thought this was taking inclusiveness way too far!

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

Several people shook my hand and said hello, welcome, please join us for coffee. I noticed that as people were leaving, they turned their leafy branches back in. I had never seen this done before and wondered if it was strictly a Presbyterian thing.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Hot, tasty coffee was served in proper mugs out on the patio. There was also lemonade, and some vegetables and dip, and carrot cake. The carrot cake looked too good to pass up. A lady told me that it was left over from last week and had been frozen, and that she hoped it had thawed (it had).

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

6 – I don't live in Paradise Valley, but if I did, this would be a good church to consider joining. The people seemed friendly and committed to their church.

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


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

Turning our palms back in at the end of the service.

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