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3298: Peace Lutheran, Peoria, Arizona, USA

Read this report | Other comments

April 3, 2018

Easter greetings to one and all.

Thank you for the opportunity to offer my comments to a recent "review" of Peace Lutheran, Peoria, on Holy Saturday.

Having never heard of the site prior, I must say that I appreciate the mission of holding the church accountable to a higher standard. We have a high calling.

Not to sound defensive, but after having received an overall score of 0 on a scale of 1-10, it made we wonder how Mystery Worshippers are held accountable for their review? [Editor's note: The reporter's rating was subsequently revised.] It does seem that even as there is an attempt to make the review fit within objective guidelines, it is nonetheless incredibly subjective based upon the bias of the one writing the review.

It would seem that we were considered to be "hellish" because we project the liturgy onto a screen. Granted some people like a book, but I for one appreciate being able to engage in worship with my head up and not down. Is the projection on a screen of liturgy rather than printing same liturgy an unholy thing? Hmmm...

The other reason for an off-the-scale low score was that no one greeted this person until the conclusion of the worship. Now there was a time prior to worship where I invite people to greet one another, but maybe this was insufficient. Remember, however, this was an Easter service (that incorporated the renewal of baptism as a part of the vigil) where over one-half of those in attendance are not regular participants in our worship. To say that we were a "closed club" would seem to be a bit harsh. [Editor's note: This language was likewise subsequently revised.] Many who come to Easter services are there to meet their own needs and are not looking to make a new friend. It would seem that our guest reviewer came as well with an agenda of needs that went unmet. My experience is that our input into the encounter/experience becomes the measure of what we receive.

Finally, while I like the concept of a "secret worshipper" I would question the appropriateness of coming to worship simply to judge others. Isn't that the opposite of what we proclaim as followers of the resurrected Christ? Don't we come to worship God? What I read in the review, and certainly everyone has a right to an opinion, is what I would consider to be the response of a "consumer Christian." Was this person invited to respond to God's grace through the renewal of baptism? Was this person invited to share freely in the Lord's Supper? The answer to both would be yes.

In my message that night, I mentioned that Easter is not simply an invitation into a new life, as a new life without love is merely existence. I reminded people that in John's gospel it is an invitation into a new love, to receive and to share love as Christ modeled in his relationship with his Father. We are invited to abide in him.

While we may be critiqued for too many slides, or insufficient effort at welcoming our reviewer, I simply ask where is the love to be found in this review? The greatest of ironies is that it seems as if the one who would judge us is even more guilty of the sin with which he condemns the people of Peace. I suppose all of us are just a bunch of fools needful of the grace of God in Christ. Thank God!

Pastor Al Cassel

Lou M. Christie replies:

There are many of Pastor Cassel's concerns that I would like to address.

First, the report is not a "review." It is a report – a factual account (or at least it strives to be) of what a first-time visitor experienced upon visiting a church he had never been to before. The score is not a "rating" – rather, it is merely an indication of the likelihood, based on his experience as a first-time visitor, of the reporter's returning again to the same church.

It is likely that many of the people present at Peace Lutheran Church on Holy Saturday evening were first-time visitors like myself – or at the very least, not regular parishioners. However, from my observations I concluded that most of them were indeed regulars. When I arrived, there were about a half dozen people gathered on the patio outside the fellowship hall. One gentleman said to me, "First time here?" I replied, "Yes, it is." He rejoined with "We're starting in the fellowship hall" and that was the end of our conversation. No "Hello and welcome. I'm John Smith. Do you live in the area?" And once inside, it was clear to me that most of the people who came in knew each other: lots of hello-ing and how-are-you-ing and other conversation that made it clear that the conversants were friends who knew each other well. I sat there as people walked by me, or hello'd and how-are-you'd all around me but not at me. No "Hello, I don't believe I know you. Welcome!" or "I haven't seen you here before, have I? Hello!" In short, nothing. And yes, there was an exchange of peace or a meet-and-greet at the start of the Paschal candle lighting portion of the service, but I received only perfunctory handshakes from the people sitting next to me or directly in front of me, although others were "working the room" greeting friends. Again, no "Hello. I'm glad you're here" or "Thanks for coming tonight." In short, the "greeting" I received was indeed "insufficient" to make me feel welcome and a part of the community.

As for the slides, I have no objection to hymn lyrics, prayers, scripture readings, and even rubrics projected on screen as opposed to being included in books or leaflets. What I found annoying and objectionable were the non-stop pictorial illustrations of what was going on at the altar. As if we couldn't figure that out simply by watching or listening. I am not Lutheran, but I was brought up in liturgical traditions that follow the standard Western form of liturgy, and I am well aware of how a eucharistic service (as well as the Holy Saturday liturgy) progresses. I am also certain that the regulars present that night were fully familiar with the way things are done at Peace Lutheran. I found that the slide show diverted my attention from what was going on – far from enhancing or augmenting it.

I was not there to judge others. I was there to worship. I am thankful that God has opened my eyes to the truths of his precepts, to the redemptive mission of his Only Begotten Son, and to the grace and love of the Holy Spirit – especially when I consider how many millions appear blind to them. I am grateful to have been bathed in the waters of baptism and welcome every chance I get to renew for myself the vows that were made for me by my godparents on that eventful day. It thrills me to sing God's praises with the music that the best composers of the Western Church have been inspired to set to paper, including the hymns of Martin Luther himself. Finally, it fills me with love to receive into my own body the precious Body and Blood of our Savior through the sacrament of the eucharist.

But as a member of Ship of Fools and a participant in Mystery Worship, I felt it worthwhile to let my fellow members, and the reading public in general, know whether or not my experience on Holy Saturday evening at Peace Lutheran Church succeeded in birthing a "new life" within me. Although there was much about the service that did just that, there were other elements that grabbed me in the other direction: in particular, the lack of welcome and the distraction of the slide show. If this be a sin, I confess: I am indeed a sinner, as are we all.

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