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Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church

Back in the Seventies the churches my family attended were either rural churches surrounded by farmland or small-town churches located in neighborhoods on the end of town in which the town itself was beginning to sprawl. As the Eighties progressed the churches we attended were more often located on busy highways, in parking lots, and the churches gradually became things we drove to rather than walked to. Today’s prepackaged concept churches almost always look nice from the highway but tend to have a rather sterile feel. One church we attended this year, Centerpoint in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, is situated in a failed housing development, so it is surrounded first by a parking lot, then by a bunch of empty lots that were bush-hogged and hastily seeded, giving the place a sort of misbegotten feel.

Stop sign at N. 12th St and E. Indianola, Phoenix

Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church (PRBC) on the other hand, is a small church in a handful of brick and cinderblock buildings with a very small parking lot a few blocks out of downtown Phoenix in a neighborhood that is sun-baked but otherwise walkable. Not that we actually saw anybody walking anywhere when we were there; it was early on a Sunday morning, and even in November Phoenix can be quite warm.

A few years ago author Sara Zarr and her husband moved to Santa Fe for the summer and ended up at our church according to what she described as “the parish principle,” whereby a person attends the church that is closest to their house that is closest to their theology, more or less, warts and all. It sounded then and still sounds to me like a pretty sound idea, at least as a basis for picking a church initially.

Reformed Baptists are both Reformed and Baptists: they have a confession and a Calvinist soteriology, but baptize only believers. There are literally a handful of Reformed Baptist churches in New Mexico, most of them in the Albuquerque area, so if I were Reformed Baptist I’d be in a pickle, and would have to choose between a long car ride every Sunday and having to associate with (gasp) Presbyterians. I have a sneaking suspicion that Reformed Baptists living in Arizona but outside the Phoenix metro area face similar dilemmas.

Looking north on Indianola

Conversely, while it’s easy to imagine that most of the people attending PRBC are some sort of Reformed Baptist remnant driving long distances to church, it’s also easy to imagine that there aren’t a lot of people from the immediate community attending PRBC.

We arrived about ten minutes early and found the tiny parking lot off Indianola less than half-full, so we circled into downtown to have a look around and to wait for the crowd to arrive at PRBC. There’s nothing quite so uncomfortable for a family of introverts as arriving too early at an unfamiliar church and having to make small-talk with strangers. It might even be preferable to be ignored. Seriously; proponents of the right hand of fellowship take note.

PRBC parking lot

We got a good look at the surrounding area and got back to PRBC with about five minutes to spare. In the meantime someone had reported a fire across 12th Street from the church, and we encountered fire engines, an ambulance, and a host of innocent bystanders hovering outside the main entrance to the church.

We weaved through the fire engines, parked on Indianola to avoid taking a regular’s regular spot, and got seated just as the call to worship (the opening song) was starting. Unfortunately I got in too late to grab an order of service, but just about everything seemed almost jarringly familiar.


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