52 Churches 52 Weeks

Worship Exploration Journey

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Week 48 – Relevant Church – Christian

At Markyay’s encouragement we attended a very new start-up Church in a school cafeteria in our neighborhood. We saw their signs posted around the neighborhood advertising their Saturday night 5:00 p.m. service. I was game for church, dinner and the Avengers at AMC. It was such a fun evening and I loved it because I am perpetually behind on everything in our personal lives. Family Management needs to be a career choice. Is it just me or is there so much stuff to have to pay attention to – insurance, investments or lack thereof, college apps, SAT exams, schedules, doctor appointments, etc?

The Pastor and Assistant Pastor had both recently moved their families to Ahwatukee at God’s encouragement. At the 5pm service it was basically the families of the Pastors, my girls and I and three others. Maybe less than 20 people in the cafeteria. It was interesting that for such a new church they have all their marketing materials, slide shows, music and service all worked out. I was reading on the St. Helen Catholic Church website that they started in 1977 with a handful of families and 30+ years later they serve over 2100 families. All churches must start somewhere and it was kind of exciting to really see a church in its infancy. The Pastors are very experienced and their kids served as greeters. It was so adorable.

Pastor Dan Rogers is an engineer which is really cool because sometimes science minded people don’t believe in God; they believe in science. He is a student of Hebrew and referred to the Greek several times. The language aspect, translations passed down through time and the cultural understanding of religion or scripture are fascinating. He recommends that if we have trouble reading and understanding the Old Testament the best book to start reading in the bible is the Book of John. I am actually going to try to do this. He explained that God is not simple but complex. God exists outside of time and views time from the end of time looking back toward the beginning of time. Hmmmm…that’s cool. He reminded us that we are fallen people living in a fallen world and sin corrupts us. It is just so.

The Pastor spoke of Tithing and it’s importance in our lives. Interesting twist that I just finished the final class of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class this week. The chapter was on Giving. Dave Ramsey says that God is so awesome that he doesn’t need our money – he is God after all. ALL the money is already his. The act of tithing is a reminder to us. God literally gave his only son to wipe away our sins. The least that we can do is be generous and Give 10% of our income. I believe that giving and being generous offers my family a certain level of protection.

The Saturday night service is held once a month and is a bible study of sorts. I learned a lot about how God humbled himself by becoming flesh and Jesus is our way out. During his time on earth Jesus did everything we would expect God to do. He lived without sin, he stated that he is one with the father and that the father lives in him. It was so interesting.

The families were so nice and I hope they grow an amazing church that furthers Gods goals on our planet.


Link to Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University which teaches a bible based approach to managing your money and finances. http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu


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Week 47 – Impact Church – Soul Surfer Bethany Hamilton

On Sunday for round 2 of our Week 47, and at Marykay’s request, we re-visited Impact Church near Scottsdale airpark with our cousin Natalie. The guest speaker was Bethany Hamilton, the surfer whose arm was bitten off by a shark in Hawaii. We have seen her movie Soul Surfer at least 5 times. It is such an amazing story and makes you think if she could overcome a shark attack and be back in the water 30 days later, you could probably survive just about anything. Her story and faith in God’s plan for her is truly inspiring.

Bethany has a great sense of humor and she went on to become a professional surfer who does speaking engagements all over the country. The crowd was predominately parents and their young pre-teen girls. The Pastor was very funny and casually mentioned that he was used to the paparazzi environment in church because he gets that all the time too. The cameras and video cams were out in full force. He also asked her not to tell Larry Fitzgerald that she brought in a LOT more people than Larry did the week before. Amazing!

Her goal with the movie was to glorify God. She and her mother have spent time praying for guidance in how to best glorify God through their lives and had to work very hard to keep the “sharks” in Hollywood from changing the direction of the movie. Each day they felt that they had to keep Hollywood honest through script re-writes so that the faith aspect of her story was honored. I think The Vow with Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum suffered a similar predicament.

Bethany talked about a surfing phenomenon called the Impact Zone where you are pummeled again and again by brutal waves. The Pastor felt that when our lives were in the Impact Zone; even though it is painful and exhausting we come out in a better, stronger place afterwards. I also thought it interesting that when they surf through those gorgeous tunnels they are lucky to get 1 second of tunnel time. Bethany said 5 seconds of surfing the wave tunnel was rad. Can you imagine all that work for 1-5 seconds? Now that’s dedication.

Bethany does raise money for her foundation: http://www.friendsofbethany.com/
Soul Surfer the Movie: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1596346/
Impact Church: http://www.impactchurch.com/

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Week 47 – St. Helen Catholic Church and Impact Church – 2 for 1 Weekend!

In week 47 I attended St. Helen Catholic Church for the First Communion and Confirmation of my youngest nephew, Troy. It was such a special experience for the family and we celebrated with a party and gifts afterward. We were in the hall in overflow seating and it was a little difficult to hear but we snuck into the main church right before communion and were actually able to see the whole thing. It was fun.

The Priest was from Uganda and spoke of past turmoil in his country. I believe it is very difficult to attract men to the Priesthood in America but can you imagine being a young man in a far off land where the possibility of the priesthood might be the difference between your next meal and starvation. He spoke of being a Catholic as a young boy but going to services with the Protestants for Easter and Christmas because they served meat and bread. This meal nourished him physically like the Holy Eucharist nourishes us spiritually.

I recently heard that 1500 Pastors leave their ministries each week because of all the stress related to the responsibility. That just sounds so high and so sad. Makes me wonder what we can all do to support those who serve in this capacity just a little more.

It was a very good day and we were so happy to share it with Troy.

Link to St. Helen: http://www.sthelenglendale.org/

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Week 46 – Jain Center of Greater Phoenix – India

Candace and I ventured out for a new experience Sunday when we attended the Jain Center in Phoenix near Southern and 23rd Avenue. The Jain Center neighbors a new Hindu Temple so I will have to add that to my list.

This center reminded me so much of the Sikh Temple my mom and I visited in Glendale. Men on the left, women on the right, seated on the floor, amazing silks, colors, jewels, make-up. Love it and I really need a Sari. They are fabulous and so feminine. Candace and I brought scarves to cover our heads but this was not a requirement here.

According to their brochure the Jain religion is predominately found in India and is one of the worlds oldest. Jains believe in conquering their passions, desires and wild animal instincts. I think the early humans must have been very naughty as this concept of self-control is present in many religions. Jain philosophy harmonizes the religious, scientific, spiritual and physical aspects of daily life. Jains believe in Karma and practice compassion, forgiveness, vegetarianism and meditation.

There are three tenents: Non-Violence and minimizing injury toward humans, animals insects and plants. This new-found knowledge has me pondering my use of weed killer and bug spray. And I now feel sorry for all those scorpions we flushed down the toilet. Even the ones we found in the sheets and crawling across the kitchen counter. I am a big believer in the delicate balance of my karmatic universe and now I am concerned. So much to consider!

The second Tenent is Non-One-Sideness meaning that what is true from one point of view can be open to question from another. Perception of reality changes depending on the state, time and place of the viewer. I know this to be true when I factor in my husband Goro.

The third Tenent is Non-Possessiveness or a vow to limit our consumption and accumulations to avoid greed and help the ecology. We must restrain ourselves. Again, the concept of restraint. Interesting because we live in such a consumer driven society. I am guessing that many of us are more aware of our consumption and its cost these days. It is ever-present on my mind!

Sunday was the children’s program with skits, songs and the presenting of religious artifacts. My favorite pictures is the one of all the dads lined up with their cameras. So many cultures adore their children and just enjoy capturing the moment. The adults took their turn in singing and leading prayer but by this time Candace had grown tired and was ready for lunch. Taking Candace with me to places where I obviously “don’t belong” allows me to be viewed, I believe, with less suspicion and at the same time it’s a little hard to focus on the message because she can be such a handful.

We were fine for the most part because this Center was loosely organized and had a free-flowing, noisy, come as you please type of environment. It seems that with many of the eastern religions being on time is not that important. A good day in all. Glad we went.

Here is the Link to the Jain Center: http://www.jcgp.org/

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Week 45 – Our Lady of Sorrows – Roman Catholic Latin Mass

Set out Sunday morning without a plan and ended up at Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Latin Mass. Sometimes God just puts you where He wants you to be. This church is located on a narrow stretch of land, tucked behind a gate and pine trees at 7th Street and Baseline in South Phoenix.

Our Lady of Sorrows is very traditional. The women wear modest clothing and lacy veils covering their heads. The men wear proper suit type attire and there is not a pair of jeans or flip-flops in sight. I had the sense that I was among very devout people. The altar boys wore frocks that harkened back to days long gone – for most of us anyway.

I entered the Church just a few minutes late and realized I had placed myself in line for confession. Old fashion doors with a light indicating “occupied” awaited. Yikes! I haven’t done that since I was 14 years old. Amazing how long the line was. And so many children ready to give away their sins. How brave.

The Priest was a passionate, compelling, convicted, imploring speaker focused on the care of our souls and sacred places. He cautioned us against letting darkness into our lives through tv, video and music. We must protect ourselves and our souls. I was so moved that I actually considered joining this church when my 52 weeks are up.

The altar was amazingly beautiful with the Virgin Mary in soft pastel creams, pinks and blues. It was adorned with crisp white cloth trimmed in golden thread. As a big believer in honoring God through art and creating beautiful spaces as an expression of our love for Him, I was in love with this church.

The Mass was conducted in English with all the prayers in Latin. I had expected the entire Mass to be in Latin so this was just perfect. I am open to not having a clue via language but it’s good to really hear the message in the vernacular. The kneelers were much harder than I was used to but I suppose bones cracking is a small price to pay in comparison for the price Jesus paid on the cross.

To learn more please visit: http://ourladyofsorrows.org/

Our Lady of Sorrows is raising funds to build a large church on the adjoining property and is accepting our donations in the event you have a little extra cash to spare see the link above.

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Week 44 – St. Katherine Greek Orthodox – Orthodox

Dropped my girls for Japanese lessons in Mesa and headed to Chandler for Saturday services at St. Katherine’s. It is a very nice church and of course I was once again spotted as a newcomer. Interestingly enough, the most friendly woman, Maria, met me at my chosen pew and swooped me away to her pew. She is the Priest’s wife! Did you even know that Orthodox Priests could marry?

She explained that the Catholic Church does not allow Priests to marry due to property rights but that in the Orthodox Church a Priest could declare his intentions in seminary – to marry or to lead a life of celibacy. She explained that her husband was called to the church by God and that the decision to be celibate is also a calling. Her husband obviously was not called to celibacy. She felt that in the Orthodox religion the Priests have a lot to offer their flock because they can be husbands and fathers and this adds a relatable element to them. As the mass went along she explained to me many of the differences between the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches. It was interesting stuff.

I loved sitting with her because while the service was in both Greek and English she explained everything to me; all the symbolism, prayers, chants, rituals, everything. It was such a great spiritual lessons. I kept wondering if we were going to get in trouble for talking in church but hey! she is the wife of the Priest. She sits on the right side third or fourth row from the front if you ever go. Sit with her. I am sure she would absolutely love to share her faith and story with you.

I was particularly intrigued when she stated that most people don’t actually know their faith or the meaning behind their rituals. I would have to raise my hand in the affirmative on that one. St. Katherine’s had a red book that explains every part of the mass. You can follow along and know that at this very moment, Angels surround the Priest, her husband! That could be a very good thing and I hope Angels surround me, at least once in a while.

I loved when she said that her husband was a sinner and did a cute little smirk and then kindly stated that we are all sinners. She just had such a great personality that I believed being the wife of the Priest must be so much fun. And probably a lot of work too. She considered her marriage to him for quite some time because to be the wife of the Priest must a calling for her as well. God pressed it upon her heart in a dream that to marry this man was a protection for both of them.

The service was very much like the Serbian Orthodox Church I attended in Week 21 except that this was in Greek, not Serbian. The Priest conducted many of the rituals from behind decorative screens, with incense and purple and gold robes made from the most incredible cloth. The art was amazing, bold, colorful. Love that.

Maria is Greek American and her husband was raised as an Irish Catholic. He converted to the Orthodox church during seminary and has brought many converts to his church. I was also told that in the Orthodox church only the Orthodox can take communion but that I was welcome to go up for a blessing. I declined. The communion was given in a way I had never seen before. The chalice had the communion and wine in it and the Priest scooped it from the chalice directly into their mouths. They had to sort of hunker down to receive it and another priest wiped their chins with a cloth. Maria explained that if you were not right with God, taking communion could cause you to burn. It is only through God’s mercy and grace that we become worthy to receive.

I feel like I am mostly right with God but I often take communion without deep reflection or thought. It’s just what’s next in the service so I go along. I will have to ponder this revelation. Maria explained that the Orthodox believe that the bread is the flesh and the wine is the body of Christ. It is not symbolic. It IS the body and blood. In other churches they serve water or juice. Fascinating how much variety is out in the world.

In the past 44 weeks there has only been one ritual I did not participate in that I could have and I regretted that I had not allowed myself the full experience. I have done everything – even in the Mosque. When I attended the Serbian Orthodox Church I did not go to the front to kiss the Icon, the Cross or the Priest’s Hand. I had just seen the global germ fest movie Contagion with Kate Winslet and Matt Damon and was so not interested in kissing something that 100 other people had just kissed. Today, I am somewhat happy to report that I participated by kissing the hand of the Priest while Maria introduced me to her husband, aka Father Armstrong.

She also explained that when the economy took a dive in 2008 the church suffered greatly as donations decreased significantly. I would like to take a moment to pray for a full on, strong economic recovery so that people can get back on their feet, pay fewer taxes, feel healed financially and donate to their local churches and charities. I would love to see a trickle up recovery where we the people feel generous, confident and secure. Can you tell that April 15th is just a week away and I owe!?

I feel a little guilty doing a recap on everything that Maria shared with me but at the same time I felt that she gave me a much deeper experience than if I had sat in the pew across from her. Thank you St. Katherine’s Greek Orthodox and many blessings on their faithful.

Link to St. Katherine Greek Orthodox – http://www.st-katherine.org/Home.html

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Week 43 Self-Realization Fellowship – Kriya Yoga Temple

With talk of Swamis, Krishna, Monks, silent meditation, fragrant incense and many OOOOMMMMMs later I was not exactly sure what I had chosen to participate in this past Sunday. Nevertheless, it was interesting. This Fellowship center is located on Central Avenue just north of Bethany Home and is surrounded by green trees and the old Bridal Path.

Etiquette rule number one: if you will be participating in silent meditation make sure you eat breakfast before hand. My stomach was so loud that at one point I actually giggled. This definitely did not help me find my third eye and may have prevented my seat mate from also finding true enlightenment.

SRF has a distinct Indian style although there were very few Indians there. At the altar were portraits of the 5 Krishnas and Jesus Christ. I was surprised by the recognition of Jesus but later learned that SRF regards him as an Eastern Mystic. The leader gave several bible examples of Jesus practicing the art of meditation and healing as handed down from ancient India. Here is an example as interpreted by SRF: Matthew 6:22 “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” (King James Version). As explained to us – this is Jesus utilizing his third eye to fill himself with light. It’s fascinating how people can look at the same things and see different things. I would have never guessed that. And then it makes me wonder – where was Jesus from the time he was 12 until he was about 30 years old. I have heard that he may have traveled through Asia. Perhaps he also trekked through India? The plot thickens.

The group leader taught us how to naturally find our third eye. In the spirit of Easter we were to go to our third-eye and look for Jesus there. With all the silence, stomach hunger and inexperience I must admit that I was unable to see him. I will try again another time. The concept sounds very interesting and apparently takes some people longer than others to develop. When you feel the pull of a magnet like presence on your forehead I think you are close! I had always wondered if meditation is the same as prayer? After this experience I kind of think not.

Self Realization Fellowship was started by Paramahansa Yogananda who is widely respected as the father of yoga in the west. Kriya Yoga is a sacred spiritual science originating thousands of years ago in India. SRF has many reading materials that you can pick up along the service to help you understand. Their website is very detailed. I would go again just to learn something new and see if I could get my third eye to open. I do kind of wonder what is just beyond this dimension that I cannot see with my two physical eyes. And one last thing! Skip the kids and bring your mom instead.