Church Under the Bridge

Sunday #7 – Church Under the Bridge, 724 Chestnut Street, San Antonio

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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.

Arrival

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.

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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.

Service Begins

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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.

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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.

What’s Next?

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.

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Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church – San Antonio

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Sunday #6 – Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church, 1534 Peck Avenue, San Antonio

Why This Church?

This past week, religion reporter Abe Levy from San Antonio Express News and I met to discuss my steeple “chasing and stretching” journey. When I shared that I’d be visiting this particular African American church because it was one of two that had the word “love” in the title, he said, “Make sure you dress up..” Immediately, my thoughts went back to the early 60s in southeast Texas where dressing up became a prerequisite for church.

I often visited my grandmother on the weekends in Bridge City, and as a member of the First Baptist Church of Orange, TX, she would take my sister and I to church. We’d watch as she dressed for church by pulling on her girdle, then rolling up stockings in her hands and slip them around her feet, up her vein covered legs to hook the stockings to the girdle. Then, she’d search for a slip before later pulling on a dress. As we watched from the floor, she’d search through hatboxes in her closet, find the perfect hat, then slip it on with a pair of matching patent leather shoes.

Once dressed we’d pile into her non air conditioned, green 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air and marvel at how she manhandled the steering wheel to turn that hunk of metal onto the street, since power steering remained only a fantasy in her mind. By the time we reached church in the hot mid-morning sun, sweat had permanently adhered our dresses to our backs.

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Somewhere during the past several decades, our society has discarded the hats, girdles, stockings, slips and begun taking an “anything goes” approach to what we wear to church. Right, wrong, good, bad, like it or leave it – I miss those days. So this week, I’m excited to attend a church where I might see a few hats. (I’m hoping!)

Preconceived Ideas about Churches Steeped in African American Culture

In both comedic and dramatic films, African American churches are presented as pretty much the same in every film. Unfortunately until now, I’ve never had or made the opportunity to test those film depictions. This week, you will see first-hand if the following preconceived ideas I hold prove true:

  • African American churches are filled with energetic and “soulful” people
  • Church music is rich in soul and creates an atmosphere where people sway and move to the music
  • Many arms swaying in the air, lots of “Amen brothers”
  • Ongoing responses from the congregation to what the pastor says throughout the sermon

Arrival

As I park my dinky Smart car in the lot, I notice that most of the women are streaming into church in red dresses. You guys didn’t spread my blog far and wide, because I didn’t get the memo that everyone should wear red for “Heart Month.” At this point, you can imagine my delight in seeing a few women sporting hats! Most men shared this garmented respect for church by dressing in suits, ties and all carrying bibles.

I took a seat four rows from the front, and a woman (in a red dress) sat next to me. Myra tells me she is the pastor’s mother-in-law and is visiting from Hillsboro, TX; we exchange a few words. She also became a great source of inside information. I noticed a poster on the wall that read: $56 a square foot. How many square feet is God asking you to give? When I ask about it, she told me that this church “burned the mortgage up” for the building they worship in now and members are raising money for a new church building.

Service Begins

Once the deacons had filed in, the service began with a reading from Ephesians, followed by prayer. Some people say, “Lord” “God” “Jesus” or “Heavenly Father” when they pray, but this deacon kept using the word “Father God” which is a little different than I’m used to. All works. Then came lively music, another reading and then more music with a spirit-filled choir.

At one point, I lean over to ask Myra why two women are standing up front waving medium-sized blue flags. I then learned from her daughter, the pastor’s wife, why. Just another way to praise and worship. Okay, then, works for me. You see, I’m not afraid to ask a few questions, if I don’t understand what’s going on.

After the most unusual way of saying the Lord’s Prayer, complete with audience singing responses, two young people came to the front for a Black History Moment of the Week. The young girl read from an iPhone about Maxine Waters, while the young man read about Frederick Douglass. Then, the organist rocked it with the choir by performing “We Shall Overcome” and one other song.

Finally, Pastor Gillespie walked up to the podium in a three-piece suit, complete with bowtie. The organist continued to play, all from ear (I’m really jealous of this particular skill) as the pastor spoke. At one point, he says, “Tell someone around you ‘I get tired.’” And Myra leaned over to say, “I get tired.” He did this several times and I thought it was an excellent way to engage the congregation. Then the organ music stops and the pastor began his message by telling us he has been battling allergies all week and didn’t know if he could make it today.” When you get to the next video in this blog, you’ll understand how allergies could seriously hamper a pastors’ sermon in a Baptist Church rich in African American heritage.

Pastor Gillespie is wicked fast with the one-liners. These caused the crowd to break out in “Amens” “That’s right” “You said it” Yeahs” and “Alrights.” He had so many one-liners, it hurt my hand to write that fast. Here are just a few for you to ponder:

“I come from a day where if my family had something, your family had something. We shared everything.”

“You can have more fun with nothing than you can with all that we have today.”

“Some people live in a mansion, but only have a .50 cent personality.”

“Some people care more about what you have than what you know.”

“The loudest person in the room is usually the weakest person in the room.”

“Too many folk are on their way to do good, when they should do good on their way.”

“Be what you is.”

“Your opinion and my responsibility are two different things.”

At this point, it must have gotten hot from the front, because the pastor ripped his jacket off, threw it to one of the other ministers and raised the volume considerably. Loved how he engaged the crowd with this statement: I wish I had three people to wave at me, because I’m almost finished. 

Then, the pastor touched on the subject of  work and having a job by sharing about a time when his kids were young. “I worked several jobs because I have this affection for kids who want to eat.” At one point he said to the crowd, “Get off your lazy self and go get a job.” Pastor Gillespie instructed the congregation to, “work where you can until you can work where you want.” I immediately took a liking to this pastor based solely on his thoughts about work ethic.

Then, he explained at one point he became a night manager for the Southland Corporation (a.k.a. 7-11). “Night manager is the knucklehead who is brave enough to be at the store all by himself and they ain’t managin’ nobody.” He said he had been robbed twice during that time. The first time, a big guy with an overcoat, ski mask, gloves and holding a big gun came in. “That changed my perspective; I looked at that big gun and thought maybe I need to give this dude some money,” he said.

The second time a little short guy walked up and pulled out a bottle of pepper spray and squirted it in his face. He said he struggled to get to the back so he could wash out the stuff that was burning his eyes. His first call after that was to his boss. “Want to know what she said?” asked the pastor. She said, “How is the store?” Pastor Gillespie said he did not leave that job right then, even though he wanted to. He waited until he had the job he wanted.

Then, the pastor hit his high point where I suddenly realized why he had concerns about being able to deliver a sermon with his allergies in full bloom.

After that the pastor sat down and what appeared to be a nurse attended to his needs with a towel, water and generally looked after his wellbeing. The altar call was made by one of the other ministers and this was quite similar to what I had experienced in Baptist churches previously.

Then came the offering. Now this was quite different, but I’d been forewarned. Everyone gets up and files to the front to put their money in the plates while the band is playing, then goes back to their seats.

Finally, came the Recognition of Visitors, (yes, I stood up), then birthday and anniversary remembrances.

Post Service Commentary

Many churches declare they have a church family; In fact, they all do. However, this is truly a church family at Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church. Everyone knows everyone else. Hugs are preferred over shaking hands. Children sit with their parents and join in on the service. Guests are welcomed from the time they walk through the door until they hop in their cars. I count this experience as truly a blessing. I have many African American friends in my circle, and I would encourage you all to invite one “white bread” friend like myself to come with you to church next week. They will have fun and you will be opening eyes to what makes the rich African American culture thrive and to another way of worshiping God. And, they might see some HATS!

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What’s Next?

A few weeks ago, my hairdresser told me about the Under the Bridge churches in San Antonio. She had seen some of these church services held under the freeway bridges for the homeless and said they were well attended. Not sure if I’ll find a website for this type of church, but I’ll reach out to my contact at the San Antonio Express. Bet he knows the details. Got my mind set on that one, but I’ll just have to see.

Rissho Kosei-Kai Buddhist Dharma Center

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Sunday #5 – Rissho Kosei-Kai Buddhist Dharma Center, 6083 Babcock Rd., San Antonio

Why This Place?

After last week’s visit to Crossroads Church in San Antonio, I sought out what I thought might be a somewhat serene and peaceful service. I view Buddhists as the epitome of those two terms. Yet my only experience of Buddhism occurred years ago when I went with my daughter’s fourth grade class on a field trip to a Buddhist Temple in downtown Denver. I remember it being very quiet and also learning from the Buddhist Monk the word is not pronouced “boo-dist” but bud-ist.” I discovered my other limited knowledge of the Buddha was misplaced from the start.

Here’s where I went wrong. I did a little research before this week’s service and learned that in all this time of me rubbing Buddha’s belly for good luck at Golden City Chinese in Golden, Colorado, I’d been rubbing the belly of Budai, a 6th century Chinese Monk who was actually quite hefty. In stark contrast, the real Buddha – Siddharta Guatama (the Buddha), is reported to have lived a rather ascetic life and ate very little, even going without food for a long period of time. In researching why this Chinese restaurant Buddha is shown as obese, while all other Indian statues depict Buddha as almost skeletal, I laughed while reading one comment in Yahoo Answers. JDSpoonworthy wrote, “When [Buddha] got really  famous, he let himself go…like Elvis.”

Preconceived Notions about Buddhists

Having so little Buddhist knowledge, (I hadn’t even seen the film The Little Buddha, until this morning), I was hard pressed to come up with many pre-conceived notions. I had read small snippets of what the Buddha reportedly shared about The Four Noble Truths, which are at the heart of Buddhist teaching; I found them captivating. Other than that, my thoughts included:

  • Buddhists are likely peace loving individuals that simply seek enlightenment
  • The Buddha offers guiding principles that are similar to all other faiths
  • Even though Buddhism is the fourth largest world religion, I find it hard to believe that there would be many Buddhist in San Antonio

Arrival

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A statue of Buddha sits at the front of the Dharma Center (a term I later learned meant teaching center; a temple is planned in the future). The smell of incense burning at the base of the statue suddenly hit me and I worried that I’d have a hard time with the service. I just don’t like the smell and if used in the service, it may have tainted my perception. Fortunately it wasn’t used. Blonde haired Ashley greeted both myself and another first-time visitor Katelynn as we entered the door. Ashley immediately dispelled all concern about what to do. She handed us each the Kyoten – the Sutra Reading Extracts from the Threefold Lotus Sutra. (I learned “Sutra” means sacred text. Didn’t know that). She gave us the run down of the service and offered the most welcoming invitation.

Compassion is the word that I’d say most covers the Buddhist religion. The Buddhists who practice their walk and the general feeling found when entering this gathering place exudes compassion. You’ll see just how compassionate later on in the blog. Upon sitting down on one of the folding chairs near the back, I began taking off my overcoat. From one side behind me, a man grabbed and then tugged the end of my jacket arm and then someone from the other side helped me off with the other arm. That immediately impressed me.

Service Begins

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Recorded organ music began as the Reverend stood to the right in a suit and two lay people, all holding mala beads in their hands, processed toward the altar that contained a statue of Buddha. Ashley had previously warned that many first-time visitors feel Buddhists are praying to Buddha with all the homage given to the statue during the service. “That’s not true though. We honor the oneness in everything and Buddha is simply a symbol of that oneness,” she said.

Once in front of the altar, one of the laymen hit two blocks together and all bowed toward the altar as the sound of rubbing beads reverberated through the room. Then someone struck a gong and for about 45 minutes, chanting of the Kyoten took place. The man in front of me often turned around to make sure Katelynn and I knew the page everyone was on. At one point, he went to take off his thick sweater and had difficulty getting it off around the sash. I felt like I had paid it forward as I reached from behind to help him, as the two people in back had helped me before.

As a native of Japan, the Reverend heads the church that is attended by other Japanese, but the majority of the 25 people in today’s service spanned in age from 25 to 50+ or more and were primarily white. Other than the suited Reverend, the churchgoers wore a variety of dress pants, jeans and casual wear.

After the extended chanting (wow, did that ever hurt my throat), and a reading by one of the members, church members closed the blinds and shut off all penetrating light. Next up came my favorite part of the service – meditation. The most soothing music began filling the room and I focused my attention on my breathing and becoming aware of thoughts that arose.

Then the Reverend walked to the pulpit to the right of the altar and gave a short talk. Following that, members passed out sheets of music and we sang a couple of Buddhist hymns while someone played a grand piano in the corner. After that, one of the lay people gave the details of the church business. She read the financials and I suppose what most impressed me were the liabilities – ZERO. To me, that said everything.  Following that, we broke for coffee and tea and then returned to the room to sit in chairs that had been moved to a large circle. This, the Buddhists call Hoza (Circle of Compassion).

Most members say this is their favorite part of the service. I won’t go into great detail, because much of the discussion involved private sharing. People shared their thoughts about struggles in the past week and  you could feel the deep compassion from those who listened to these others share their concerns.

In the end, a rather odd and unplanned thing took place at the close of the Hoza. A woman had appeared at the end of the session from off the street and asked to speak to the group. She said that while we had been in service, a portion of the Katy freeway had collapsed and her daughter and grandchild were killed and she needed help to get back to Katy to see about her other children. She asked for anything that might help. She seemed so sincere and what seemed to be genuine tears flowed as most of the members, including me, handed her money. I immediately wanted to check on my sister-in-law and friends in Katy, but put that on hold for a bit.

It wasn’t much later that I, and others realized that this person had scammed those in the audience for money with her story. Yet, instead of becoming outraged, the members of this group said to one another in quiet tones, “Well, she definitely needed help for something; it’s not for us to judge.” I only thought: That’s quite gutsy to come into a group that believes so strongly in Karma with a made up story. Hmmmm. 

As people began dispersing, Ashley came up to me and said she wanted me to have her second set of Mala beads that I’d so admired in the members’ hands during the service. She said that Jerry — a former Southern Baptist Minister in their group made the beads. Jerry later told me about each set of semi-precious stones and held the beads up to reiterate what I’d been told earlier about how to hold the beads to see the representation of the Buddha, with the head, arms and legs. This gesture touched me deeply and I will continue to learn more about the beads and what they mean to the Buddhists. Thank you, Ashley!

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Post Service Commentary

After the two-hour service, I thought about how all these unprompted and unexpected examples perfectly illustrated the compassion of Buddhists and the non-judgmental nature they work to hold and express. Truly, truly beautiful.

What’s Next? 

I pick these churches and services sometimes by their worship times, on a whim, or at other times in contrast to the service before. Next week will be different. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I did an Internet search of all San Antonio churches that had the word “Love” in the name. So, next week I’ll choose between Love Gospel Church and Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church. From a YouTube video, I have learned that the latter one is an African American Gospel church and I’ve always wanted to attend a church service where “congregation engagement” is at its best.

Cornerstone Church

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by Marcia Horn Noyes

Sunday #4 – Cornerstone Church, 18755 Stone Oak Parkway, San Antonio

Why This Church?

After last week’s visit to a small rural Cowboy Church in Boerne, I thought I’d do an about-face and worship in one of the many Mega-churches that can be found in Texas. This one is only about five miles from where I live and its large electronic sign overlooking Loop 1604 and Stone Oak Parkway is one that can’t be missed by passersby.

That flashing sign always brought to my mind Mega-church leaders like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Ted Haggart, as well as others whose broad-reaching television fame came crashing down when details unearthed about their personal lives and how those details didn’t dovetail with what was being preached from the pulpit.

Preconceived Notions about Charismatic Mega-churches

With my underlying notion that these types of churches are all the same – money trumping the message – I had really never considering stepping in. Before today’s attendance, my general thoughts about Mega-churches consisted of the following:

  • First-time visitors probably get lost in the crowd
  • Likely too much emphasis on the slick production versus the message/teaching
  • General feelings that these pastors are more concerned with fame rather than leading from authenticity and a right relationship with God

Arrival

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I know you won’t believe it, especially after hearing that I’d been out until 1:30 in the morning attending a local fund-raiser for which Mike’s cousin performed, but I got to this church early. I didn’t even look for an up-front parking spot in the Mega-parking lot that serves the needs for a multitude of buildings on this campus.

Upon arrival, I stepped into a crowded lobby that snaked around the arch of the sanctuary. I quickly walked around to get the lay of the land. As I strolled, it felt less like a church and more like Mile High Stadium, where every few feet some vendor sold something. I saw tables manned by people with pamphlets and information. Other tables had people selling tickets for upcoming events, others hocked wares like t-shirts, books and trinkets.  I even found a table at the end of this arch with people selling Girl Scout cookies. (I abstained, but it wasn’t easy.)

After the previous service was dismissed, we all walked in. I quickly noted the crowd mix of blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asians; in many respects, it seemed like quite a diverse group. Keep reading to learn where the church can be viewed as much less diverse.

Some may be a bit overwhelmed upon entering the sanctuary. The set up of studio cameras, floating cameras, cameras on booms and lights resemble what you might see at a major league sporting event; the audio soundboard is one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. I climbed the many stairs to the top of the balcony so I’d have the best chance for observation. As you’ll read later, it was a wise move.

Massive velvet curtains extended from one side of the stage to the other and a band of about 17 musicians holding trombones, guitars, saxophones, drums and trumpets populated both sides of the stage. Before the service, the two large video screens came on with church announcements. I like when church announcements are made more interesting with the use of humor and this video delivery rose to meet my delight.

Service Begins

A short song with everyone standing, quickly evolved to more standing. The curtains then unveiled a robed choir of about 100 singers. I’ve never been to a black Gospel church, but this is probably the closest I’ve ever personally experienced – lots of clapping and swaying from side to side. Lively music made this part of the service quite enjoyable. Didn’t see anyone dancing in the aisles, but it was close.  After about 15 minutes, the congregation had the first opportunity to sit down.

I realized how far reaching this ministry extends when the minister got up and said, “For those of you watching around the world on GETV….” I’d seen these types of church productions on TV before, but I’d never been a part of one being televised. Before the pastor continued, he said that this service reached all the way to the Super Bowl. He sat down and a video came on the two large screens of Gerell Robinson’s mom who works in the television ministry at the church. We learned her son would be playing for the Denver Broncos at the Super Bowl; she also spoke about how early on in his career, he avoided conflict and contact at all costs. She said as he learned to play football, he would run to the other end of the field and back to avoid getting hit. Being from Denver and about to cheer for the team, I loved this part of the service.

After that came more announcements about the Christian School, the ministry’s college and other news from the multitude of events happening in the church. Then visitors were welcomed, recognized and asked to stand. (Yep, I stood as a first-time visitor. Felt somewhat brave today. Yeah, I know…you’re impressed.) Then came the tithes and offerings. Got a weird feeling when the pastor asked, “How many of you have brought your tithes and offerings this morning? Well hold them up high and let me see them.”

Then the lights went dark and I saw several men come on the stage to reset it for the main message. At that point, I felt like I was watching the second act in a stage play.  We then all stood to read as the day’s bible message was read; I noted how many people had brought bibles with them to the service. You don’t always see that at every service.

Today’s message was the first in a series about the Lord’s Prayer, so the stage crew had erected a huge freestanding backdrop that illustrated four different points about the Lord’s Prayer. It didn’t take long before I understood why I saw no gay couples in the audience. More than once, the pastor made repeated points about how marriage is between only one man and one woman. Add the pastor’s outspoken views about abortion, and I suddenly realized why two men in suits stood at the base of the stairs leading to the stage. They remained absolutely still while facing the audience for the entire service. I’d only witnessed that scene once before. Years earlier, I’d covered the arrival of then president George H. Bush at the Jefferson County Airport for KBMT-TV and at the time had a first-hand view and many conversations with some Secret Service men while they waited for President Bush to return to the airport.

Seemed rather odd, but considering what happened in the New Life Church in Colorado Springs a few years earlier, I suppose I understand the need for security.  What I didn’t get was how I felt toward the end of the message. This pastor’s booming voice had no rival in the area of evangelical preachers. As he hammered the points one right after another with increasing volume and emphasis, I felt as if my insides were being jolted and jarred by the sheer sound. My ears just couldn’t handle this level of sound. So, I was glad when it came time for the Holy Communion of chiclet-sized crackers and grape juice. I needed a break from the noise.

Post Service Commentary

People gravitate to such large churches for the array of fellowship opportunities that these churches can offer. You can find something to do every day of the week and for each and every member of your family. It truly is a place where your whole life can revolve around the church. Likewise, if you choose not to be as actively involved, you can slip in and out of church services virtually unnoticed from one Sunday to the next.

What’s Next? 

After this week’s booming sounds, my ears need a break. I’m a very peace loving person and cherish the quiet, contemplative moments to worship God, so maybe I’ll learn more about what the Buddhists are doing in San Antonio and seek out a more serene and calm service next week.