St Andrew’s Reformed Episcopal, Glendale, Arizona, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Andrew’s Reformed Episcopal, Glendale
Location: Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 2 June 2024, 4:00pm

The building

St Andrew’s Reformed Episcopal Church is not to be confused with St Andrew’s Episcopal Church, St Andrew’s Traditional Anglican Church, St Andrew’s Lutheran Church, or St Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church, which are also in the area. The congregation meets in the administration building on the campus of Arizona Christian University. Founded in 1960 as a conservative Baptist seminary preparing students for careers in vocational ministry and missions, The university is today non-denominational and offers degrees in biology, communication and political science, as well as biblical and theological studies. Students are required to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and to attend chapel services. Church was set up in the lobby of the building, a very bright space thanks to one wall entirely of windows. Stairways lead to other parts of the building. A folding table had been set up as an eastward-facing altar, covered by a lace altar cloth and backed by a black curtain. Plastic folding chairs had been arranged in rows and as sediliae.

The church

The Reformed Episcopal Church was founded in 1873 in opposition to what they saw as ‘Romish germs’ and ‘erroneous and strange doctrine’ of the Oxford Movement infecting what was then called the Protestant Episcopal Church. Today the denomination has five dioceses in the United States, Canada and Cuba. They claim apostolic succession but are not in communion with Canterbury, although they are in communion with the Free Church of England and certain other ‘breakaway’ Anglican churches. Their Wikipedia page is instructive if somewhat wordy. St Andrew’s does not appear to have any ministries or outreaches other than worship services, but they do offer Holy Communion on Sunday afternoons, and morning and evening prayer every weekday both in-person and via Zoom. There is also a catechism class twice each month.

The neighborhood

The university campus is at Greenway Road and 59th Avenue, a primarily residential area of this northwestern suburb of Phoenix. Strip malls featuring a variety of fast food joints are not far away. There is a Catholic church nearby, as well as a fire station. One does wonder what the conservative Christian community of the university thinks of one particular business located across the street called Suddenly Sculpted and Sexy, which offers (quoting from their website) a ‘comprehensive range of beauty services designed to help you look and feel your best, from lash extensions and skin treatments to laser tattoo removal and more.’

The cast

I believe the vicar took the service and the assistant vicar preached. The vicar was vested in cassock, surplice and tippet, the assistant vicar only in cassock. They were assisted by four gentlemen attending in choir, all vested in cassocks, who served as lectors and schola cantorum.

What was the name of the service?

I didn’t see the name given anywhere, but I would call it Holy Communion.

How full was the building?

I counted exactly 48 chairs. There were about 20 people present: men and women, mostly a youngish crowd. One woman carried an infant papoose-style. There were one or two teenagers. I understand that when school is in session the attendance is higher.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Did they ever – but read on! As I was snapping photos outside, a gentleman (who turned out to be one of those attending in choir) literally rushed out the door and welcomed me effusively. He gave me copies of all the literature I would be using and explained in great detail what I could expect. Once inside, I was again greeted effusively by the handful of people who were setting things up. But once I was settled in and the congregation began to arrive, I suddenly became invisible – no one so much as glanced at me, let alone had anything to say to me.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a plastic folding chair and was comfortable enough.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Some people sat quietly and others visited among themselves.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good afternoon. Please stand for hymn number 321,’ which turned out to be ‘Holy, holy, holy.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

They use their own edition of the Book of Common Prayer, which is essentially an amalgam of the Church of England’s 1662 Prayer Book and the Protestant Episcopal Church’s 1928 Prayer Book, with certain other modifications. Hardbound prayer books were available, but so were service leaflets, which were less cumbersome. We also had a sheet with the hymn numbers and readings for the day, a contact sheet and prayer card, a printout of the catechism lessons that would be covered in today’s class, and a brochure about the Reformed Episcopal Church. The hymnal was the hardbound Magnify the Lord.

What musical instruments were played?

None. A grand piano sat silent, closed, and covered with a blanket. We sang a cappella following the schola cantorum’s lead.

Entrance to St Andrew’s Reformed Episcopal, Glendale, Arizona

Did anything distract you?

I suppose the biggest distraction was the order in which the various parts of the service were taken. I had never seen the 1662 Prayer Book before, and the 1928 Prayer Book only once or twice. It seemed to me that some things were done backwards, but I guess that’s the order of service they’re accustomed to. And I was certain that I had seen one of the gentlemen in the schola cantorum before, but I couldn’t remember where and I didn’t recognize his name from those listed in the service booklet.

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

Fairly straightforward and dignified. The hymns were all old standards. The Sanctus and Agnus Dei were sung to the Healy Willan settings, but I had never before heard some of the other chants, especially the Lord’s Prayer, and the music was not supplied although the congregation seemed to know them. We knelt on the bare floor for the confession and absolution (well, some of us did anyway – not me – my knees would never have forgiven me). There were bells at the consecration, but the elements were not elevated. We received communion in the hand – the standard wafer, which we could intinct in a chalice or drink from the chalice, as we wished.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

24 minutes.

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

5 — I thought the assistant vicar was reading from a printed text, although he tried not to look it. This to me is not the same as preaching. And I thought he tried to cover too much.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He entitled his sermon ‘Love: Sweet Word, Sweeter Act.’ Love is the solution to all human problems. The Christian life is founded on love. Are we so jaded by the world today that we can no longer love? Lord have mercy! God created the world in love and made man in his image. He sent his Son to die in order to redeem creation. The Trinity is an act of mutual love. God is what he does; therefore God is love. If God loves us, then we are duty bound to love God and one another. Love breathes life into us and makes God known to us. Perfect love is to love for love’s sake, not out of fear or because God so commanded.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Everything was done with simple dignity. And it was heavenly to sing some of those old chestnuts: not only ‘Holy, holy, holy’, but ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence’, and ‘Amazing grace’ as well. No Singing Nun stuff here. I doubt the Reformed Episcopalians even have nuns.

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

I have to say that the lack of instrumental accompaniment was a big turn-off. It would have been very helpful to have been given the notes to all of the chants, not just some of them. The gentleman in the schola cantorum who appeared to be the lead singer was a tenor, and he pitched some of the numbers a bit too high for comfort. Some of the other members of the schola, and quite a few of the congregation, seemed to be singing at their own pitches. Surely someone there knows how to play the piano. And the altar candles were never lit during the entire service. Finally, this would not be an Amanda B. Reckondwyth report if I didn’t point out that most of the altar party was properly shorn, except for two gentlemen in the schola who wore dirty scuffed brown shoes. Quick! My smelling salts, please!

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

I continued to be as invisible as I was pre-service. I fumbled with the various books and papers trying to get them in order. The service leaflet was marked ‘Please do not take home,’ and so I tried to unwrinkle it as best I could to put back on the table. As I was fumbling, I heard a loud ‘Well, hello!’ near me and turned, but it was addressed to someone else. No one said anything to me. I managed to slip out unobserved.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Their website states that after the Sunday service they ‘have a shared meal every week and a time of fellowship.’ I saw where it was being set up, but I really wasn’t in the mood to stay. I stopped by my favorite neighborhood Chinese restaurant on the way home for some mu shu pork.

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

3 — I’m afraid I’m hopelessly addicted to ‘Romish germs.’ After all, what’s a eucharist without incense and lit candles, not to mention black haberdashery? I was surprised to see everyone bow their heads every time the name of Jesus was mentioned, and there was quite a bit of crossing although the vicar never actually made the sign of the cross. But I need more ‘Romish germs’ than just that. And the congregation has to work on being friendly to strangers.

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

I suppose so.

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

How the effusive greeting upon my arrival suddenly evaporated and remained so.

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