Home > Church Visits, Media > Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church

Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church

Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church is a smallish church, and the building has a simple 1950s cinderblock feel; the sanctuary looks like it has had an addition built on in the back on one side, so the view from the pulpit is kind of asymmetrical. I would guess that with the addition included the sanctuary would hold 250-300 people. Like a lot of small rural Baptist churches the sanctuary is done up in light colors (pale wood, white walls) and makes good use of natural light. The windows appeared to be clear or frosted (no stained glass) and were covered with white shades, I’m guessing to keep the interior from getting oppressively hot in the summer.

The sanctuary has a dusty smell, not mildewy (like you might find in a place with a lot of humidity) or hot-dusty (like a furnace turned on after months sitting collecting dust) but a sort of closed-up attic-y smell.

There’s no choir loft and no visible baptismal pool in the front, and the area around the pulpit holds just a couple of chairs. You can sort of get a feel for what it’s like by looking at some of White’s YouTube videos where he preaches from the PRBC pulpit:

Note the blue curtain and darkish pulpit, Communion table, chairs, etc. It’s a bit dark but not gloomy. I think there’s no baptismal pool behind that curtain, but I could be wrong. Note also the absence of scoreboards that are sometimes present in small Baptist churches; some churches use these as literal scoreboards (attendance and/or giving numbers) and some use to hold hymn numbers.

The liturgy was short and serious. There were four hymns, all from the Trinity Hymnal (Baptist Edition) [link], led by the pastor Donald Fry. The church has both a piano and an organ, but nobody played the organ. There were no announcements and there was no “special music.” We recited the Lord’s Prayer, there was a Gospel reading unrelated to the sermon text (and unreferenced in the sermon) and a long, occasionally technical, apparently extemporaneous prayer. And I do mean long: the service started promptly at 11:00AM, the sermon 19 minutes later, and some 8-10 minutes of that 19 were allocated to the prayer.

Lest I forget: as I’ve noted elsewhere I don’t take a side in the Worship Wars on principle, but personally I far and away prefer singing hymns to worship choruses, preferably pitched so I can sing along. The hymn singing was one of the highlights of our visit to PRBC. Even or especially the amen at the end of each hymn.

Dress was casual; I had been concerned that I would stand out in my solid polo shirt [link] and ripstop hiking pants, but nobody batted an eye. A few t-shirts, some with words, almost no jackets and ties outside the pulpit. James White was wearing a sleeveless sweater with what appeared to be the Alpha and Omega Ministries logo in orange over one breast. That was my first clue he wouldn’t be preaching; I believe he always wears a jacket and tie for that.

The crowd was kind of small (somewhere in the 70-100 range; I’d guess 80 people), racially mixed and with people of all ages. I was surprised by both of these: it has been my experience that conservative churches, especially small ones, tend to be all-white and older, with an average age in the fifties or later. Not so at PRBC; I’d love to know how they’re drawing people in their twenties and thirties, or alternately why people in their 20s and 30s attend PRBC. I’m not sure if it’s surprising that there are e.g. Hispanics at PRBC given the ethnic makeup of Phoenix; the conservative Protestant denominational churches in northern New Mexico tend to be very white. I really couldn’t tell you if the church is growing or shrinking, but it certainly seems to be poised, demographically speaking, to at least survive, unlike a lot of churches I’ve visited.

There was no Communion/Lord’s Supper. I wasn’t expecting it, as the Baptist churches I’ve attended rarely have Communion on Sunday morning, and PRBC explicitly states that the sermon is the central feature of their service [link].

The people we dealt with were very welcoming and friendly (in spite of the fact that there was no “right hand of fellowship” for which I am grateful); nobody tried to keep us from taking the baby into the service or gave us dirty looks when he got restless. My wife ended up taking him to the nursery, and the workers there were friendly and accommodating and didn’t mind that she wanted to stay with him.

At the end of the closing prayer I headed out to find my family and head for lunch and then the airport, but the pastor called out after me from the sound room at the back of the sanctuary and introduced himself and made me feel welcome. That’s a practice I rarely see any more outside of small Baptist and Lutheran churches, and I’d almost forgotten what that was like.

On the whole I’d look forward to visiting again if and when we’re back in the Phoenix area, especially if White were preaching. I’m still curious to see what he’s like live in front of an audience that knows him and (by the same token) to see how they respond to him. It’s hard to get a feel for that sort of thing on YouTube or at a conference.

I realize I haven’t dealt with the sermon in the text above; stay tuned. The sermon itself is available at Sermon Audio [link]. I should be able to get to it next week.

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  1. December 7, 2010 at 11:49 am

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