Sunday #7 – Church Under the Bridge, 724 Chestnut Street, San Antonio
Why This Church?
When I first began this musical chair church journey, my hair stylist said she’d like to visit a Cowboy Church. In that discussion she also mentioned another church I should visit – Church Under the Bridge, where services are held under a freeway in San Antonio; she’d seen it when passing through. Unfortunately, my research indicated that the one she spoke of had moved into a church building, but I did find similar organized “under the bridge” services in other parts of Texas and the country:
http://www.churchunderthebridge.org – Waco, TX
http://www.mpaustin.org/street/cub/ – Austin, TX
http://cuabtyler.org – Tyler, TX
Church Under the Bridge – Midland, TX
http://www.bridgeministry.org/under-the-bridge.html – Goodlettsville, TN
https://www.facebook.com/underthebridgegreensboro – Greensboro, NC
Ideas about Under the Bridge Churches
No preconceptions here! I have no idea what to expect. However, after reading the book “Jim and Casper Go to Church” – a book suggested by my friend Bobby Martin, I’m interested in one thing: Will this church feel different due to its heavy emphasis in mission work to the community? One of the overwhelming complaints from the atheist in the “Jim and Casper” book is that very few of the churches did much in their community, even though many times “community” was part of the official church name. He pointed out that most of their mission dollars were spent overseas and only a few of the churches visited had made a tangible impact in their communities.
I’m also interested to see whether the church continues to attract the homeless of San Antonio, or whether it has expanded its focus.
As always, I take a quick photo of the building so readers can get their bearings. I immediately met a man by the name of Rudy. He in turn introduced me to Pastor Gabriel, someone who seemed to be the associate pastor. As I took my photo, Gabriel stepped inside and then handed me a church bulletin (first I’d ever seen in color) and a shrink-wrapped welcoming present of a pen and scripture.
Remembering a conversation about visiting churches, this made me smile. In this previous discussion, a friend and I talked about whether or not most visitors stand up when asked by the pastor. I explained that the church I belonged to in Lakewood, CO gave out flowers to visitors, along with a CD of a previous service. This friend said she knew of a church that gave out pies to all visitors. Really? I’m still waiting for a pie. If I find that church, you’ll be the first to know.
No pies here, but lots of welcoming people. As I sat down in one of the rows of new and rather comfortable chairs, I looked up at the stained glass windows below the cathedral ceiling, then several people came over to introduce themselves, including Pastor Dennis as he walked down the aisle to the stage.
I smiled again as the jean-clad pastor led the group of about 30 people (a great mix of white, black, Hispanic, young and middle-aged) in prayer. If you read last week’s blog, you know I became curious about how different people refer to God in prayer. Pastor Dennis said “Father God” more than once during the prayer. Later, I learned he has a Baptist background, so maybe my hometown friend is right that Baptists often use those words instead of other choices. After the prayer, Pastor Dennis instructed everyone to go around hugging each other. Got lots of hugs, welcomes and pats on the back.
Lots of singing came next, all run through an iPhone. My how things have changed! Like Kendall County Cowboy Church in Boerne, the pastor sang on stage, along with his daughter and many of the six kids of the associate pastor. As the words of the song appeared on the overhead screen, my OCGD kicked in and I found it hard to focus on anything but the word “your.” It’s a frustrating condition – Obsessive Compulsive Grammar Disorder. Over and over again, the word “your” appeared when it should have been written “you are” or “you’re.” I hope you don’t have this disorder; it’s quite distracting.
After running eight miles yesterday, I preferred to sit, but instead, I stood with everyone else for song after song. This is not the first church I’ve visited that started service in this manner. Maybe it’s a new thing to get worshipers in the groove. I just don’t know, but someone chime in, if you do.
Following the announcements, the audience waited while technical difficulties kept the children from their special song. After a few minutes, that glitch got repaired and while the children sang, the deacons took up the offering. At the end of the song, the pastor held his hands over the money in the basket while people from the audience held up their hands. Pastor Dennis asked God to bless the offering and to bless those who gave 100 fold times what they’d given. Of course, I immediately started doing the multiplication on what I’d given. Hmmm. I think you’ll hear about it when that 100 fold appears. Oh, it will appear. I believe!
Then came the sermon on “Empowering Beliefs.” As the Pastor spoke he quite often said, “Somebody say ‘Amen.’” And then the audience would then say, “Amen.” This happened continually during the service. I guess that’s what they call “audience engagement.” I saw it in action last week at the Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church.”
The Pastor spoke of starting the church with nothing more than a 200-foot extension cord that a nearby car wash allowed him to use to tap electricity for services under Highway 281. In fact, that’s the origination of the church name. The associate pastor told me later that when someone asked the street preacher what to call the church, he looked up and said, “Well, we’re standing under a bridge; let’s call it the “Church Under the Bridge.” The name stuck, even when church leaders moved services to a nearby tavern and later to this fine building.
The pastor’s message, drawn from a great deal of New Testament scripture, centered on the word “belief.” I loved his story about New Orleans and how it seemed everything and everybody was leading him to pastor a church in the Crescent City, but neither he nor his wife wanted to go. In the end, the church didn’t call him to be the pastor. Six months later, Hurricane Katrina hit.
After an altar call that ended with deacons “laying hands” on several people that came to the front for prayer, the associate pastor dismissed everyone.
Post Service Commentary
The best part of this visit came after the service, when the associate pastor asked me to come back Sunday evening, or during the week, when he said the building would be crowded with upwards of 300 people. That’s when clothing would be distributed and a warm meal served in the dining room.
Loved hearing about how Little Ceasar’s pizza has gotten involved with the church. They installed a pizza oven; employees volunteer their time to feed people, and each week the owner of the San Antonio franchise posts job openings amongst all his stores, so the homeless who come to the church can apply. Pastor Gabriel says this company, as well as others get involved with the church to offer their support. Churches around the city also step in to volunteer; ultimately things just magically happen with a lot of prayer and donations from around the city.
I know you’ve been wondering why I haven’t gone to a Catholic Church, Jewish Synagogue or Mosque. Well, I’ve been holding those in my back pocket for when I’m doing a long run on Sunday or having a conflict with Sunday morning. Next week, I have a conflict. I need to be in Austin for a wrestling match, so I’ve asked my sister to pick out the most beautiful Catholic Church in Austin. I suddenly have a hankering for worshiping God in a stained glass church. Stained glass is heavenly, isn’t it? Jump into the comments and let me know about your favorite stained glass or under the bridge church.