While protestors took to the streets of Phoenix, life in the East Valley — as viewed from the sidewalks of Mesa, Gilbert and Chandler — seemed pretty routine on Monday.
I began the day on Stapley Drive in Mesa after spending the night with a remarkable family I will introduce you to on my blog.
Day 9 of my walk across the East Valley took me in a big loop, down Gilbert Road to the town of Gilbert then across to Chandler before turning north and returning to Mesa.
Far as I could tell, it was business as usual. Well, that’s not entirely true. At New Life Family Church, located on Gilbert Road just north of Elliott in Gilbert, the pace was quickened. In the church office, four people were busy sticking address labels on 1,200 postcards they will mail to announce their special Easter service.
This is sort of like Super Bowl week for Christian ministers. Come Sunday, churches all over the Valley expect the pews to be packed. The CEOs (Christmas/Easter Only) will be there Sunday, right along with the regular congregations and perhaps some folks who will soon be added to the flock.
For Paul Earle, associate pastor at New Life, the week leading up to Easter means long days. Monday night, there was practice for Sunday’s service, an elaborate multimedia production. On Tuesday, there will be practice for the church’s new musicians. Every day, in fact, there is something special to attend to.
“It’s gotten to the point among all the churches where it’s almost a competition,” says Earle, whose father is the senior pastor at New Life. “Everybody pulls out all the stops. Of course, we try not to look at it that way. All of us are on the same team.”
New Life relocated from central Mesa about 2 1 /2 years ago. It’s been a good move for the church, whose membership has grown from about 150 to 350 since the move. The church’s focus has changed, too, reflecting the needs of the community the church now serves.
“Gilbert is white, middle-class, conservative, suburban,” Earle says. “We want to meet the needs of that demographic. In Mesa, our focus was more on urban ministry and Spanish-speaking ministry. Here, the problems are different. We see problems in marriages, huge debt and trouble with kids.”
Now, though, the focus is on getting ready for Sunday.
Along Arizona Avenue, a sequence of events played out that seems quintessential East Valley. As I was walking down the sidewalk, I happened to see, just 50 yards from one of Chandler’s busiest thoroughfares, a couple of cowboys taking turns roping a dispirited calf in a small corral.
Jason Lenstrom, 18, of Queen Creek and Danny Kempker, 19, of Mesa, were playing a roping game called 11. Each cowboy starts with 11 points. Each takes turns roping the calf. If you rope both of the calf’s back legs, you stay at 11. Rope only one leg and you lose a point, miss completely and you lose two points. First roper to zero points is the loser.
Lenstrom and Kempker are long-time team ropers. Both work at Wayne Deakman’s Brushy Creek Ranch, where they break and sell horses.
“It’s all I’ve every done,’’ Lenstrom said. “I love it.’’
A soon as I stepped back on the sidewalk I encountered two more teenagers, Mormon missionaries. Elder Knox, from Mobery, Mo., and Elder Beus stopped their bikes to chat. Bikes, I scoffed, informing them of my walk across the East Valley. But I did feel a little sorry for the young men, especially Beus. He’s from Alaska.
“It’s pretty warm today, huh?” he astutely observed. “Just wait,” I said with a chuckle. Elder Beus did seem to have a sense of humor about his circumstances, though. “I guess the church really knew what they were doing with me,” he said. “Alaska to Arizona. Hard to imagine any bigger change than that.”