Little Gruene Church

Date: January 24, 2016

I moved to the Gruene district of New Braunfels in mid-January. As when I moved to San Antonio, this time I also decided that I’d visit all the churches here before making my decision on where I’d land. Once I have a short list of churches, I’ll take Don back around to see which he feels most comfortable worshiping in.

How I ended up at Little Gruene Church

As you drive into Gruene Lake Village, you see a small sign for Little Gruene Church to  the right. Makes you wonder what it is and certainly I immediately put it on my list, due to the proximity to my new home. This weekend, I’d planned to go to the Unity Church of New Braunfels, but the night before, I met a new neighbor named Rich. After a brief introduction, he shared that on the weekends, he teaches at the Little Gruene Church. Come to find out, he is a co-pastor of the church and views himself more as a teacher versus a preacher. He invited me to come the next day because after church, there’d be a potluck at his large home next door. So, I changed my plans.

Arrival

Took me all of three minutes to walk over to the church, if that long. Might have been less, if I’d known that I could have gone in the backdoor versus the front.

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Really, folks, this church is maybe 1/16th of a mile from my home. I walked over on a perfect day with wispy clouds in the sky. The sign in front is small, but has a big welcome.

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Rich greeted me at the front door, then I quickly met Barbara who also lives in my neighborhood. Oddly enough, I quickly learned that my other neighbor Heath is the pianist for the church.

Service Begins

I’d say that the general start to the service is much like the church in which I grew up. You have your meet & greet, hymns and such, then a children’s sermon. Two boys came forward for that (sons of Heath and his wife Patsy) and Pastor Don gave the message. Before finishing that message he asked if the boys had a scripture for him. Each took their turn standing and gave a verse that they’d chosen and memorized for the week. LOVED this idea! What a great way to get kids to read the Bible and make it part of their lives.

Offertory

This church doesn’t put great emphasis on the offertory portion of the service. Pastor Rich pointed that out then shared that if God had called you to donate, there were boxes located at the front and back doors to drop those in. I thought this was unusual and delightful at the same time. Although I’d written a check before I arrived, I stepped out of the church in the end and forgot to drop in my tithe. I caught myself at the last minute and stopped back in to put that in the box. Guess there’s some training needed for that new tithing process. As with the Baptist churches I’ve attended in the past, the Doxology was then sung.

Before the sermon, one of the lay readers, who I think was also a board member, got up to read the scripture for the morning. Here’s where the service lost me for a few minutes. The man quoted from Two Corinthians 10 versus 3-5. Yes, he really said “Two Corinthians.” Well you know that had my mind off and running, given the current Donald Trump political talk about him saying the same thing versus Second Corinthians. Did this man support Donald Trump? Was he making a statement by doing that? Or, are there really people who also say “2 Corinthians” versus “Second Corinthians?” Guess I’ll never know, but sure had my mind in a tizzy trying to figure it out.

Message – “Winning the Battle for Your Mind”

Pastor Don gave a great message about taking control of your thoughts and how everything proceeds from thought to emotion and then result or habit. Felt like I was back at Mile Hi Church in Lakewood, CO with such ideas. That immediately struck a chord with me, so I enjoyed listening to him make the analogy between war and thought.

As he explained, he is much more of a teacher than a preacher, so his sermons are quite informative. Plus, he provides handouts for his talk, which makes it easy to remember over the coming week.

Thoughts

Afterward, we went to the pastor’s home for a potluck. (Pastor Rich calls this the church annex because it literally adjacent to the back door of the church.) Loved, LOVED his and his wife’s home. It’s filled with teak wood pieces and is one of the most beautiful, relaxing homes I’ve ever been in. I look forward to spending more time with he and his wife Kay and enjoying this neighborhood.

 

 

50 Churches in 2014 — Now Complete

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 5.08.23 PM   Final Sunday #50 – Celebration Circle – an inclusive, multi-faith community with a creative approach to spirituality. San Antonio Garden Center, 3310 N. New Braunfels Ave

(NOTE: Services in 2015 will be held at Say Si, 1518 S. Alamo

Why this church?

Two reasons for choosing this church: 1) It was recommended by a librarian at the library I frequent, 2) Why not choose a church that has the word “celebration” in it for the final church of the 50 I visited in 2014?

This is truly a celebration, as I had doubts that I could find 50 different churches to visit around San Antonio. As it turns out, I still have a few that I didn’t get to, such as:

  • An Orthodox Jewish service
  • A Zorastrian church – could only find one in Dallas (too far)
  • A Sikh service – ran out of time
  • Church of God
  • Jainism – heard about this one at the Hindu Temple; apparently this group believes so strongly that one should not kill another living thing that they often cover their mouths so they don’t breath in any organisms. Gotta check that out some day.
  • Taoist Church
  • And, one of those churches that uses rattlesnakes in their services; I understand those are only found in Kentucky; I wasn’t in that state this year
  • Church on stilts – this one is in Austin and held some intrigue, but I never made it over

I think I pretty well covered everything else.

Arrival

Well, you didn’t think I would arrive early are on time for the last one did you? Absolutely not! I decided to get in a session of morning yoga before heading out and I misjudged how long it would take me. I zipped down Hwy 281 like a bat out of hell and fortunately there weren’t many cars or traffic officers on the road.

I walked into a room at the Garden Center and a woman immediately handed me a piece of cardboard with a bulletin on top and a gold piece of paper. I thought perhaps it was a nametag, but I resisted the urge to let everyone know who I was. Good thing! This last service at the Garden Center was called the “Burning Bowl” service. I’d need that piece of paper a bit later.

Everyone stood as a few musicians sang at the angle of the room.

Instead of a drum set, I saw bongo drums and other instruments that I was too far away to see. Not many open chairs remained, so I thought I’d have to sit on the stage behind the sea of chairs but suddenly spotted an open spot. We then stood while a woman said a prayer. I noted in the prayer that she prayed for our “two-legged,” “three-legged,” and “four-legged” friends. I thought that was a bit odd until I noted later in the service that a dog was present. In fact it was a “service dog” in training. Don’t know why that sign on the side of the dog almost sent me into a fit of laughter. Shouldn’t every church have a “service dog?” You betchya!

Service in Progress

After the prayer, we sat down on cushioned chairs as the band played on. I noted a lot of children, as well as people ranging from their 20s to 60s. I saw one man sporting a ponytail, women in long dresses, a smattering of jeans and boots, as well as experienced a strong whiff of incense. With this group, it appears most everything goes as far as attire.

When the song ended, a woman came to the music stand to read a poem called “The Choice” by Danna Faulds. After that came a section of the service most would consider the Communion, but this group calls this portion of the service, “Food for Thought.” Before breaking the homemade bread and passing it to each person in rows of chairs, the person leading this portion mentioned that we should all focus on the oneness of being and that we are all connected. I must say, as far as Communion goes, this was the best bread served bar none. It wasn’t just bread but raisin cinnamon bread freshly baked. YUM!

After the “Food for Thought” came the Children’s Circle. All the kids came up, save the one two-year old who came up and quickly darted for a plastic yellow pitcher of water sitting on a low window sill. He was determined to get to that water. He grabbed the top and pulled it off before his father could reach him. The dad took him back to the group for the blessing of children where we jointly stated: “We love you. We see you. We recognize the light in you.” And then, small tot wonder darted away again toward the water. Finally, his father picked him up and carted him to he back of the room with the toddler yelling, “No. No. No. No.” Gotta love two year olds — so mentally and physically focused.

We were then enlightened by the announcements, specifically about the change of Celebration Circle venue for all of 2015. A woman then came up for one more song and was comfortable photo 1-28enough with the group to stop the song mid-stream when she realized it wasn’t being played at the right tempo. While she sang, a community sign-up sheet was passed around so people could volunteer for all the tasks that need to be done on the following Sundays and during the week. After that, I took the time to look at the bulletin. These guys like to be connected. You can sign up for the email alerts by texting a code to someone, comment on their Facebook page, visit on Pinterest, Google+ or their MeetUp group, see what’s going on through their website or even scan this QR code with a Smart phone to sign up for the e-newsletter.

The Message

Rudi Harst, the leader of Celebration Circle started with a story about a monk who decided to leave India because he couldn’t do anything right. His guru or religious leader asked him to do one thing before he left. He was given a basket and told to go to the river to get the religious leader some water. Four times, the monk returned with an empty basket because the water had drained out on his way back. Dejected, the monk apologized, but the guru or religious leader said, “Great. The basket is now cleaned. Please sit on your cushion.”

That story led to Rudi’s point that we must be open to receive God’s blessings. From the beginning, Rudi talked about the upcoming Burning Bowl section of the service that included a meditation followed by us writing down what we needed to release in 2015.Rudi was quite honest, saying that today he would be writing down the same thing he wrote down last year, and probably the year before that and the year before that. Laughter of recognition reverberated around the room. He then stated that the baggage we carry is a gift, not garbage, and we need to be with our “basket” just the way it is. We have a chance in every moment to leave our resistance to change behind. So, we should write what we burn in the bowl in the form of dropping the resistance to being who we really are.

Thenphoto 2-27, while we wrote, a man played a Didgeridoo from the front of the room. I do believe this was the first time I’ve ever heard the haunting sounds of a didgeridoo and it was awesome! Following that, the band came up to play “Into the Fire,” as we began lining up to hold the pieces of paper over a candle and dropping the burning notes into the large bowl.

I absolutely loved this song and couldn’t take my eyes off of the young woman who sang the song in a jazz like fashion. She had a voice unlike one I’ve ever heard. I’m frustrated that I couldn’t make my camera phone work at that point. I’ve never seen anyone sing barefooted before who was so comfortable in her own skin and music that it just filled every inch of her up. She used her hands to express the deep feeling she felt in singing the song. Truly amazing.

Then we joined hands in a circle around the room, sang their parting song (which I did not know) and were dismissed.

Post Thoughts

I’d come back in a heartbeat just to hear that voice again. I wish I could fill my soul with a passion for something the way this woman has a passion for song. I’d say that this group encapsulates some of the Buddhist teachings. They also meet at the Quaker Friend’s Meeting House on Wednesday for meditation, but you’ll also see a lot of Church of Religious Science leanings with a good portion of Universal Unitarian thrown in. Celebration Circle is definitely in a class of its own and I’m so happy I had the chance to see what it was all about.

What’s Next in 2015?

Everyone has been asking me this question. Half way through this journey, I thought I might try to read all the major religious texts. I even started on several. I read the Qur’an. I’m halfway through “A Course in Miracles.” (I know that’s not necessarily a religious text, but is one everyone should read and study.) I also read a children’s book based on the Hindu religion. Yet, in the end I decided this wasn’t something I could blog about.

I also considered doing a year of Sunday School visits. I was so impressed by the Sunday School session I attended at University Presbyterian in San Antonio, that I wondered if other churches put on the same comprehensive studies as they did. However, I decided that with all the travel I planned for 2015 that might be problem, as well.

Here’s what I have decided to do.

As I think about the past year, I’d like to continue with a few more blog posts that wrap up the SteepleStretch insights around subjects of particular interests to churches, like offerings, sermons, greetings, and such. I also have one funny blog post that I’d like to write immediately that I wish existed for churches – sort of a Fandango for church services.

In 2015, I will have two focuses and will be blogging about those, but not posting until the end of the year. My personal focus will be on what I call “Transform in 12 Months.” You’ll hear more about that likely at the end of 2015 and I’m truly amazed at how God puts you at the right place at the right time. Today’s service was a celebration of the 2014 SteepleStretch journey and laid out what I need to do in 2015.

The last focus will be on reading as many books from the “1001 Books You Need to Read Before You Die” list. My kids have the most wonderful conversations about all the books they’ve read during their time in the International Baccalaureate program and in college. I don’t think any of the three kids ever agree on any one book, so it’s interesting conversation to listen to. Unfortunately, I can’t join the conversation, because I’ve not read the books. This year, I’ll try.

My son Alex said that if I compelted 50 books per year, that it would take me 20 years to finish all 1001 books – that may be longer than I have. So, I’ll just focus on one per week and see where that takes me. I may post these blogs as I finish each book.

A SteepleStretch Retrospect

This has been the most insightful journey I’ve ever traversed. I now feel completely at ease to walk into any church, in any city, any where in the country and feel completely at home worshipping God. I better understand different cultures and appreciate them. I now understand the practices of those who worship differently than I do and can embrace their choice to do so. That’s what it is all about folks.

I’m honored by all the comments you’ve made on the blogs throughout the year; many of those comments enlightened my visits even further. Thank you for sharing this journey with me. I hope you have come away with insights that will bless you on your own journey of worship and oneness.

San Francisco de la Espada – a mission church

IMG_7737    Saturday #49 – San Francisco de la Espada — One of San Antonio’s five mission churches, 10040 Espada Road, San Antonio, TX

Why this church?

A year or so before I met my husband, he got into photography. FIMG_5196rom 1982 until 2012, this photograph he took hung on the walls of our homes – in Corpus Christi, New Orleans, Houston and finally in Denver.

I knew that he had made many trips to San Antonio with his camera in tow, usually on his way to see his parents in Kerrville. However, I never gave the picture a second thought, nor did I ask about its origin.

When speaking with my daughter via Skype earlier in the week, I noted that same picture which now hangs on her wall. Seeing it reminded me that I’d not been to any of the five mission churches in San Antonio. I quickly looked them up and ran across a mission church that looked so familiar – a scene I’d seen daily for 30+ years. I quickly Skyped her back and asked her to turn the computer so I could see the photo again up close. Sure enough, one of the missions that I’d just researched — San Francisco de la Espada — was the same mission church he had photographed all those years ago. That sealed it; I knew this would be the one I visited. Hopefully, I could arrive before the sun went down, so I could snap a shot similar to Mike’s.

History of the Mission

Founded as San Francisco de Los Tejas in 1690, the oldest of the East Texas missions moved to the San Antonio River in 1730 or 1731 and was renamed San Francisco de la Espada. Without French influence, this mission wouldn’t be standing today. In September 1831, the governor of Coahuilla and Texas sent an order to the political chiefs that all mission property, except the churches should be sold at auction. In 1858, the mission was partially returned to usage with the arrival of the Reverend Francis Bouchu, who lived at the mission and made records of everything.

Arrival

Once again, I was running late and wasn’t sure I’d make it, but traffic cooperated. I IMG_7734found the little mission church and entered its old wooden doors about two minutes after the service began.

I walked into a small room with Sautillo floor tiles, walls made from adobe and wooden beams that spanned the ceiling. About 25 people sat in very old, Spanish style wooden carved pews.

Service Already in Progress

As I took a seat on the back pew, I scanned the room while two different people gave the readings. After that, a wonderfully talented guitar player stood in an alcove about a quarter of the way from the front of the church and played while we sang. Then the priest, dressed in a maroon and gold hooded robe walked to the altar framed in a sea of red poinsettias. IMG_7731

The Message

After saying a few words at the pulpit, this priest walked to the middle of the aisle and began talking about mother Mary, then made the reference to the many Quinceañaras that are celebrated as young Hispanic girls turn 15. Quinceañeras are given to bless girls at the age when they move into womanhood. He explained that centuries ago, young women were honored for their ability to give birth; in an agrarian society those extra hands were considered a blessing to a family.

As with the priest at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower, this priest also delivered his message without any notes and with a sense of levity that left the congregants laughing. (This is such a wonderful change to what I typically expect from a Catholic service).

After he gave his message, he walked back to the altar, bowed and then sat to his right. Then as soon as he sat, he arose and stood to recite the Creed. (That’s just what I call it. I’m not sure what this is called, because I didn’t have a program for the service.)photo-31

Then, a woman came to the pulpit to offer the prayers of the people. After that came the offering. While the guitarist sang, two people grabbed long-handled baskets and took the offering. This, too, reminded me of the “fish frying baskets” used by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower.

Then, as soon as that offering was made, they came back for round two. By now, I understand that most Catholic churches have two offerings – one for the general church fund and another for the poor. However, I’ve never seen a church doing offerings back-to-back like this before.

Then, since there were no altar boys at this church to help, adults came forward to help with Communion. The priest said something in Spanish and we rose to our feet and sang the hymn of Glory, then knelt.

After the priest gave the instructions for the Communion as Christ did in the Bible, we joined hands with those around us and said the Lord’s Prayer and passed the peace. After that, we remained standing and sang once again with the guitar player, while the priest broke the large wafer in pieces. Then, we were back to kneeling.

The priest then served himself, followed by the person standing to the side of him. And finally, people filed up the aisle while some worshipers remained kneeling and others sat back on their pews.

After everyone was served, the priest turned toward the altar and knelt, while the music continued to play.

We sang again while seated, then we stood while the priest said a prayer and gave some announcements.

Finally, the adult helpers grabbed the red Bible and the crucifix and led the procession down the aisle with the priest following in close step.

Shortest service ever – 58 minutes — 56, if you count that I was two minutes late! Funny, last week I attended the longest service of the year with a grand total of 2.5 hours and then the shortest service with only 58 minutes.

Post Thoughts

What most impressed me about this church, besides feeling that I was in a time warp and reliving what Mike may have experienced in the same spot decades ago, was the priest. Some exude this wonderful aura of complete sincerity. Everything he did was done with reverence and purpose and such humility: so refreshing to witness. I can see why people worship here – the wonderful history of the mission combined with a priest who exemplifies the traits we’d all like to demonstrate as Christians.

What’s Next?

#50….the final church service of the SteepleStretch series. My hope is that tomorrow I’ll be at a church called Celebration Circle. I can’t think of a more fitting name for my last service of the year. (At least the last one I’ll write about.)

Baruch HaShem Messianic Congregation – a blend of Judaism and Evangelical Christianity

photo 2-26    Friday #48 – Baruch HaShem Messianic Congregation – NEW LOCATION: 16320 Heubner Road, San Antonio

Why this church/synagogue?

When I began this journey, I knew I’d attend one Jewish service, but instead, I discovered many from which to choose. I first went to Congregation Agudas Achim (Conservative Jewish) then, I attended a Temple Beth-El (Reformed Jewish). From there, I learned about Orthodox Judaism (haven’t been to one of those services) and even others, such as Baruch HaShem Messianic Congregation. Also, a friend from where I grew up (Cindy Bostwick)  told me I should check out this movement.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around this congregation. Messianic means “of the Messiah.” So this congregation, while worshiping in typical Jewish style with observance of the Torah at services and speaking and singing in Hebrew, this congregation blends Judaism with Evangelical Christianity. During this service, I felt like I was worshipping in a Jewish synagogue, but had the feeling of having one foot in a Pentecostal Church, like the one I attended at Hope Center Church and the other foot in Greater Love Missionary Baptist church (an African American church) I’d visited in San Antonio.

Arrival

Even though I thought I was running late, I actually arrived a few minutes after 7 p.m. and then realized the service started at 7:15 p.m. Phewww. As I entered a side door, people began greeting me with the words “Shabbat Shalom” and “welcome.” I immediately felt at home.

As I sat down, I noticed that men all wore yamikas and some women had covered heads. The crowd ran the gamut in dress, from jeans and tennis shoes to dresses and headscarves. What immediately struck me was the representation of all nationalities – blacks, whites and Hispanics from every generation.

Service Begins

As the service started, the Cantor came to the wide lectern and began reading from Psalms 1. To the left of him sat a small table that held two candles. From there, he led us all in a prayer. Still standing, a woman walked from the cushioned chairs to the table and covered her head in a shawl like cloth. I didn’t understand this particular tradition, but she lit the candles, then passed her hands over the flames and then put her hands to her forehead and with a bowed head said a prayer.

Then, the Cantor welcomed everyone to the Shabbat service. The Rabbi came to the front and said that the Torah table was not set up and the reason was that the Torah had not been brought into the building. Apparently earlier in the day, Palestinian protestors had targeted the building, and the group had circled the building in a march. The Rabbi assured us that we were all safe and that the building was well guarded.

What? This is San Antonio not Israel or New York City or even Ferguson, Missouri. I’m not a fearful person, but for some reason, thoughts swirled and I finally had to shake them off.

Then, we stood to sing from the words that appeared on a large overhead screen This congregation also does a lot of clapping after each song and even during the pieces. After that song we moved into another reading and then were told that we would face Jerusalem for this particular prayer. We all turned to our right and then everyone covered their eyes with a hand and bowed their heads. I peeked through my fingers to see when to uncover my eyes, but this lasted a while.

We remained standing for the next song and I then noticed that this group does a little bend and bow with certain words of different songs. Not sure what that is all about, but obviously done out of respect. Just don’t know the meaning, unfortunately. We remained standing for the Chamocha. No, I don’t know what that means, but, I found it fascinating that this group could easily go from English to Hebrew to Spanish in the same song. Then we stood for the Aleinu – nope, I don’t know what that means either.

We stood for another song and the Cantor faced the screen. I noticed that small children chattered somewhere behind me, and the noise created an atmosphere of happiness and family. Then, we sat for the Haftarah reading and once again, I don’t know what that means either. I began to feel that worshiping in a Jewish service is much like worshiping at the Baps Shri Swaminarayan Mandir – Hebrew words and saying made about as much sense to me as did Hindu. Then we had another reading – the brit hachadasha.

Finally, (at this point I thought it was over, because it was about an hour long), the Rabbi gave a few announcements that this was the last Shabbat service in this building. They had sold and bought another building within one hour. Trinity Title who conducted the transaction said that they’ve never seen a congregation so blessed. The new building at 16320 Heubner (a former Lutheran church had previously owned it but could not meet its monthly obligation on the building), would be located in the heart of the Jewish community. I got the sense that there might be some hard feelings between the traditional traditional Jewish people and those who are Messianic. The rabbi then asked if there were any visitors. I slipped my hand up and someone came by with a card for me to fill out.

After those announcements, a six-member band played while congregants brought up their envelopes of money and dropped them into wicker baskets. At this same time, so many people came up to me during this time and welcomed me, including the Rabbi. No message had been given at that point, and I thought the service was over, but no, they were just gearing up for the second act.

As the band played women came to the front and danced a Davidic dance for several songs.

Then, several special guests performed. First, a viola player from South Texas, then a couple from Israel – one a recorded artist and the other I guess was a Rabbi. Rivka Whiten has a booming voice and a jovial way of talking to people. She talked about her life growing up as an Israeli in America and then returning to her homeland. At one point, she made everyone stand up, join hands and we all did a type of dance around the room. That was my closest experience to doing a Jewish dance. Kinda cool!

Then, Rivka’s husband gave the message. He talked about moving to Israel when the government was on strike and his wife being seven months pregnant. He said when the government of Israel goes on strike no one receives healthcare, so Rivka gave birth on their kitchen floor with a mid-wife after 35 hours of labor. OH MY! He also talked about his Israel news website being taken down by Islamist hackers and how they’ve had tires slashed, things burned in their yards and all sorts of things happen to them, yet they remained faithful to their mission.

Finally, after two and a half hours, the guest speaker gave an altar call. Wasn’t expecting that, but leaders met people at the front that wanted special prayers. This occurred while the band played on. Then, several tents were placed around the room and families joined under the tents for a special prayer. I stayed in my seat because I wasn’t sure if I was to go up there. Probably would be uncomfortable for someone new to this service, but after so many services, I’m completely comfortable being uncomfortable and I just took photos.

Oh and there was a breaking of the Challah bread and some wine, but I couldn’t tell if that had more Jewish or Christian context. Left me confused. And finally, a man on stage blew a sound through a curly horn and the 2.5 hour service was over.

Post Thoughts

Though I haven’t a foggy idea of what’s going on most of the time, I do enjoy worshiping with the Jewish people. They always seem to be a happy bunch – a lot of love for each other and a great deal of care and concern for their family. The whole thing with the protest bothers me and I suppose that’s why I feel this blog is so important for people to read. It seems there are as many ways to worship God as there are people. I believe that no one way is the right way so imposing our own views on others gets us nowhere. I have a profound wish for us all to live lives to the best of our ability and understanding. We don’t have to cut people’s heads off, protest or denigrate others to get them to believe as we do. Others will easily follow when they see that we live with joy and purposeful lives.

What’s Next?

Sikh service, Celebration Circle or Church of God? I think I’ll just wake up tomorrow and see what develops. I’m down to only two more to get to 50. Like marathon running, it’s enjoyable when you just learn as you go and stay committed to just doing the work and showing up.

Gateway Fellowship Church — (Worship in a movie theatre)

photo 2-26  Sunday #47– Gateway Fellowship Church – 11505 Texas 1604 Loop (Theatre #9, Silverado 16), San Antonio

Why this church?

Shortly after I started this journey, I read an article about startup churches that utilize the comfort of movie theatres for services. One San Antonio news source quoted a Dallas-based Christian research group last year, saying that an estimated 250 churches meet in movie theaters throughout the United States. I know of four of those in San Antonio and there may be many more. By choosing a theatre, versus an elementary school, a startup church removes a few of the frustrations in temporary facilities, such as:

  • No need to stack chairs – everyone in attendance has a great seat
  • Sound is not a problem – acoustics are great
  • No need to bring your own large screen – screens don’t get much bigger than at a movie theatre

Arrival

Running a few minutes behind, I stepped into the theatre and four people immediately greeted me. When I asked where to go for the service, one young woman pulled me over to fill out the visitor information, saying it would save me time in the service. She then handed me a red bag of stuff. Inside, I found a glass with the Gateway logo. That’s a first.

photo 4-18   I’m still looking for that church that gives out homemade pies to new visitors. Haven’t found it yet. <<DRATS!!>>

This young woman walked me over to the right theatre and I walked up into the room as everyone was standing and singing with the 6-member band, which included one cello – also a first for a rock-type church band.photo 1-26 I found a prime seat near the front of the second set of chairs and right in the middle.

<<Where was this seat when I went to see Intersteller a few weeks back?>>

As the band finished the first song, we stood while the worship leader announced that the Communion would be passed around. I’m glad I didn’t miss this part, because this is something to talk about. While Communion is normally handed out from silver trays, this method was more like drive-thru Communion. A few weeks ago, Harvest Bible Chapel introduced me to a new expedited way to serve Communition, with the cup of grape juice sitting on top of another cup that held a cracker; this Communion took that idea one step further. We receved a little plastic cup and once everything was passed out, the lead band member said a few words and then we were instructed to peel back the first layer. There I found a small wafer. After taking that, the band leader told us to peel back the second layer to uncover the grape juice.

photo 3-24  <<Clever>>

From there, we remained standing for the second song, then the prayer, and finally the meet and greet section of the service. After shaking hands with those around me, we were asked to sit. Two people then came up to the front to give the church announcements. I’d already been to the church website and learned that the church is in building mode and making plans for moving from the theatre into their own building. During the announcements, I learned that the church is focused on providing a place for special needs kids, so they feel welcomed in church. That’s a wonderful outreach and kudos for doing so, Gateway Fellowship. I also liked that this church has a place online where they provide a list of missionaries supported monthly, as well as the programs they support. That gives viewers and worshipers a sense that the church is making things happen in their community and around the world.

Then came the offering. While small black trash cans were passed (I really hoped to see those plastic popcorn containers from the 70s that look like bags of popcorn), a preview of today’s sermon ran on the overhead screen – Letters from Jesus. 

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  Service Begins

The teaching pastor, instead of the senior pastor gave gave today’s sermon. He wore jeans and a shirt, with the tail out – pretty typical for non-denominational churches these days. He also sported a very long, bushy red beard.

photo-33For some reason, I had great difficulty listening to the sermon based on the book of Revelation. Perhaps it was due to the subject matter, but I had this inability to take my focus off his beard. Later, my son told me that this habit of focusing on something out of the norm is an evolutionary protection mechanism we all have. Hunter/Gatherers needed to be alert to differences in the landscape in order to spot danger. A felt so much better after talking to him, because it really bugged me that I couldn’t focus on what the pastor said and instead, kept fixating on his beard.

Finally, we stood for prayer and then heard the worship leader sing. This song was the best part of the whole service. The man has a beautiful voice and this song was lovely.

I tried not to move around too much during this quieter time. It’s a move theater and guess what’s underfoot in a movie theater? Yep, residual soda pop spilled during the previous night. My shoes kept sticking to the floor and making sounds if I lifted them off the floor, so I stood, stuck in place. After one last song from the band, we were dismissed.

I walked out of the service to the smell of popcorn. YUM! Then got a chuckle as I looked to my left and saw all these church members standing around in the bar before the next service.

Post Thoughts

While I didn’t get much from the sermon, I sure enjoyed the people. They are a happy bunch and quite friendly. If you’ve never worshiped in a movie theatre, it’s definitely different. You’ll certainly enjoy the comfort of the seat. Where could you go to church and lean back with a headrest?

What’s Next?

Was planning to go to a Church of God church tonight, but I just learned it burned down and the service at 6pm is not tonight. Double Drats. I’ll have to double up next week. Still want to hit a Sikh service, but I’m not sure I have the right clothes.

Summit Christian Center – (non-denominational) San Antonio

photo 2-25  Saturday #46– Summit Christian Center – Nondenominational, 2575 Marshall Road, San Antonio

Why this church?

Proximity! Only 4.8 miles from the house and it has a service on a Saturday evening – two of the most important things (at least to me). Since I’ve been to one or two non-denominational churches already, I’m not sure why I had this one on my list; I suppose it’s due to website intrigue. The singers on stage look excited on the site, as well as multi-cultural. Also, I lassoed my son into going with me, so he could give a young person’s perspective.

Arrival

Seems I never can get it right. Sometimes I forget my pencil in the car; other times I forget something to write upon. Tonight, I forgot my cell phone, so as Alex and I entered the doorway to the church, we did an about-face and headed back to the car. As a result, we were both warmly greeted twice!

As we walked to the sanctuary, we passed a nice coffee shop, then gift shop. photo 5-7

From that point we could already hear the bass of the 9-member band playing on stage. Even though the sanctuary can fit several thousand people, most of those at the Saturday evening service sat away from the balcony seats. All in all, I’d estimate about 300 to 350 people at tonight’s service. Those in attendance primarily dressed in jeans and pants, and were equally divided between whites, African Americans and Hispanics. I’m sure there were other nationalities in the service, but the sanctuary had already dimmed its lights for the bands’ production, which included a fog machine and spots of purple, green and blue gel lighting and some major amps.

photo-31

Service Begins

As the first song began, the crowd stood as the words appeared on two large overhead screens. No one around me sang along with the band – perhaps they were tone deaf. It’s always hard to follow along with just the words, if you don’t know the tune.

When the second song began, we remained standing. I wanted to poke Alex in the ribs and remind him that with all other non-denominational churches they typically stand for four songs before the audience is asked to sit. I decided against that because I figured Alex might bolt for the door if he had to stand that long. (Neither of us are big stand-in-place kind of people). However, after the second song, a bouncy woman (I believe this was the pastor’s wife), came to the stage and led us in a prayer. To me, it sounded more like a political rally prayer, but then again, everyone prays as they are led. From there, the service had a few announcements and then we were asked to greet those around us. I shook hands with a few people, but it was more of a quick “Glad you are here kind of greeting.”

Then to my surprise (was expecting at least two more songs by the band, according to my experiences at mega churches), the pastor popped on stage, dressed in a long sleeved shirt with the tail out, jeans and possibly even boots. This seems to be the clothing choice of many non-denominational pastors – at least for a Saturday evening service.

The Message

Pastor Rick Godwin spoke on “The Benefits of Having a Spirit of Gratitude.” He immediately sailed right into his message, peppering scripture with a multitude of vignettes and stories. From the pulpit, he read his notes as he went. While I like a pastor who can weave a story into a message to make a point, I felt like this message was all story and scripture and no space or breathers. I likened it to having only one note to play and no space around the note. After a while, the stories that made me giggle and smile began to wear on me. However the delivery was simply a matter of style and one that I wasn’t used to.

I did find his mannerism to be a bit like a young Ronald Reagan and that was endearing. The points of the message about being grateful in all things that you do and that you are unique, so “be a voice, not an echo,” struck a chord with me. Also liked his wording when he said, “We so often count our blessings with our fingers and our miseries with a calculator.”

After the message, the pastor led us in prayer and then had kind of a silent (no peeking) in-your-seat altar call where those who wanted to accept Jesus as their Savior could do so somewhat privately. Then the pastor cued a video about a couple that had made Summit Christian Center their church home, when it was called something else before Summit. It was a heartwarming story and I think if someone in the audience were looking for a church home, this may have had some impact.

After the video, guests were told to sit back and not participate in the offering, and that it was time to give members a chance to give of their tithes and offerings. Like most mega churches, this one used buckets to pick up the checks, cash and coins.

Finally, the pastor had everyone hold out their hands and he gave the parting blessing and we were dismissed.

Post Thoughts

I didn’t see this as we walked in, but can you believe it, this church has a two-story full-sized carousel!

photo 4-16   I’m talking a major carousel here. Who has a carousel in their church? It certainly made me smile, almost as much as that cross made out of used telephone cord at the at Passion City Church in Atlanta. Although I couldn’t find anything about this carousel on the church website, I immediately understood its value. I used to tell neighbors holding garage sales: You have to have one item that is the big draw. You should never sell it until close to the end of the sale because that one item will draw people in for its novelty. A carousel in church – definitely a novelty!

In the end, Alex had many of the same feelings as I did. Wasn’t his kind of church. He really didn’t like the tele-evangelist style of preaching and the over-the-top production from the band, even though he did enjoy the music. In the end, he said he felt like many of those in his generation (under 25) aren’t looking for the highly polished productions but instead, a genuine, heart-felt experience in which they can participate. I’m not sure what a church like that would look like, but I’ll keep my eyes open for him.

What’s Next?

Theatre church? Who knows? Depends on how late I sleep in as to whether I can make it tomorrow. If not, I may hit another service at 6 pm.h

Harvest Bible Chapel – (a start-up church) – San Antonio

photo 1-23  Sunday #45– Harvest Bible Chapel – a start-up church – San Antonio

Why this church?

I read about this start-up church in the LOCAL newspaper that comes to the house each month. I’d wanted to visit a start-up church to witness the difference between the people who are on ground floor-faith compared to those who are involved in well-established churches. This one launched October 5 at Vineyard Elementary.

Pastor Josh de Koning had been with a Harvest Church in Austin and the story goes that he and his brother road their bicycles from Austin to San Antonio to mark the event of the church opening.

Arrival

I roped my son into going with me on this visit because I wanted to get his impression about the service. We drove into the school lot and were immediately stopped by a man in an SUV who had a question about what time the service started. We told him that we were new so didn’t know anything. He said he had been at last week’s service and really liked the pastor’s message, so he came back again. That was encouraging, so we turned to enter the school.

Start-up churches have unique challenges and one of those is in the area of signage. When meeting in rented space, church leaders and volunteers must spend hours retro-fitting the space and then hours tearing it down.
photo 2-24 As I walked down the school hallway, I noted lots of church related messaging hanging over what surely was school-related information. It certainly was more than a simple: “Church is through this door” sign.
photo 3-21
We walk through two large doors that lead to the cafetorium – at least that’s what they were called in Colorado, so I assume they are the same in Texas – a room that functions as part cafeteria and part auditorium. With the backdrop in black, a five-member band asked us all to rise to our feet for the first song. I didn’t tell Alex about that part, where I suspected that we’d be on our feet for the first four songs.

Service Begins

After the first song, (surprise, surprise), we got to sit down for the announcements, which were followed by a viewing of a video on the two large overhead screens. Then we stood for the second song and then the ushers came forward for the offering.

The offering was very similar to the one taken by the Church of Christ, Scientist in San Antonio, where a black velvet bag is passed around. I like these little devices because you can drop your bills, change or check in and no one on the same pew or chair row can see what you donated. More churches should do that. I know the question that you’d like to ask? Well, why not just donate online and then no one sees anything? Answer: I’m old fashioned, so I still like the feel of letting go of the money versus donating digital ones and zeros.

While the velvet pocket was passed, I looked around the cafetorium/church and saw people in jeans, suits, boots and dresses – anything goes in this church. Then we had a reading from the fourth chapter of Psalms and a prayer. Then a few people raised their hands in praise and others swayed to and fro to the music as we sang along for the fourth song while standing.
photo 4-15

The Message

The pastor, clad in jeans and a sport coat read from Philippians 3:1-11 and discussed two reasons for pressing on and knowing Christ and then six ways to do that.

We should press on because (1) you have arrived and (2) Christ made you His own.

The pastor drove his point home by saying there’s a reason that a car’s windshield is so much larger than its rearview mirror. If we are always looking behind us, then we’ll surely run into problems and not see what’s coming. Then he gave his six ways to press on:

1. Forget your past and push forward
2. Keep your eyes on the apostolic example
3. Think like a citizen
4. Anticipate the Savior
5. Glory in what is truly glorious
6. Love and be loved

After the message, we were told that this would be the first time that the church had administered communion. I was quite anxious to see how they’d handle that, but I must say that this church did something that I’d not seen before. While the silver trays filled with cups of wine (substitute grape juice for this church), those wine cups sat on another cup of that held a small bit of cracker. When you picked up your wine turned grape juice, you picked up the cracker cup at the same time. That sped things along considerably. Felt like an expedient way to serve communion, if you ask me.

Then we all stood for another song and finally read Ephesians 3:17-19 before being dismissed.

Post Thoughts

If you want a biblical message versus a feel good message, then this is one church you may want to check out. I know many of my friends prefer this type of message and for them, I think they’d feel right at home. All churches were start-up churches at one time, but it got me to wondering how many of those are going on in one city from one Sunday to the next. Not sure if there’s a way to check that out.

What’s Next?

So little time left before the end of the year. I know I want to take in a church in a theatre, so that may be the next one.