Longform

The Faithless

Page 9 of 9

He seems to want, desperately, to make things hum — and he doesn't seem to trust anyone but himself to make it happen. "He just doesn't want anything to go and happen without his okay and input," notes Ralph Hill, the trustee. Combs even jumps in to personally lead the singing.

It happens near the end of worship. The team filling in during the choir director's absence — a drummer, a keyboardist, and three singers with handheld mics — finishes a rousing version of "Jesus, We Crown You With Praise" when Combs steps out of the audience and asks one of the singers for her microphone. (The singer, surprised, goes along, smiling.)

The pastor explains that he wants the whole congregation to do the motions: touching their hands to sign "Jesus," placing an imaginary crown on their heads at the word "crown," raising their hands at the word "praise." And then he leads them into the song himself, John Lithgow teaching tai chi.

The song, as it turns out, was one made popular by the Brooklyn Tabernacle, where Combs was associate pastor before coming to Phoenix, before everything at Valley Cathedral unraveled so badly.

And as he sings it, the congregation following his lead, Combs' voice is several times louder than anything else in the room.

"Jesus, we crown you with praise
Jesus, we crown you with praise
We love and adore you
We bow down before you
Jesus, we crown you with praise."

There's something poignant in the way the pastor's voice gains volume over the half-empty cathedral. It's as if he remembers a fuller church, a more jubilant congregation, and he has no idea how loudly he's singing.

No idea at all.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske