Sunday #9 – University Presbyterian Church, 300 Bushnell Ave., San Antonio, TX
Why This Presbyterian Church?
In a word – “inclusive.” Mike’s cousin had invited me to his church a few weeks back and told me about the church’s openness to worshipping with all faiths, ethnicities and gender preferences. Want to know how inclusive this church is? Just have a look at this statement from the church newsletter:
<<Affirming that every person has worth as a unique creation and a child of God, we welcome into full participation people of every age, sex, race, color, ethnicity, culture, immigration status, political affiliation, economic condition, physical and mental ability, marital status, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression.>>
Also, cousin Larry’s 81st birthday is this week, so I can’t think of any better time to go.
What I already know about Presbyterian Church Services
After spending 12 or so years in the Presbyterian faith, attending First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood, I learned that Presbyterians have strong roots to Scotland. I used to love when the church marked special occasions by including a bagpipe procession. I also know this about the faith:
- Presbyterian ministers probably spend more time than their counterparts on sermon preparation. The messages given are richly peppered with passages from the Bible and are extremely well researched.
- Presbyterian’s baptize children as infants.
- Presbyterian’s have a similar style service to Baptists (my previous background), with a little more ritual thrown in that resembles what you might find in a Catholic church.
So, here I am, worshipping at University Presbyterian Church. For the first time along this journey, I also have the pleasure of hearing a sermon delivered by a female.
I typically haven’t attended a Sunday School class along this journey, but when Larry asked me to join his class, thus explaining it as a series of classes about the criminal justice system, the idea intrigued me. After attending the class facilitated by Pastor Kelly Allen, I realized the class focused more on the criminal injustice system.
Presbyterians are known for developing intellectual thought around such topics. I remember years ago attending a class taught by church friend and NASA consultant Dr. Michael Bodner. Michael gave a multi-view perspective about education from around the world and how those systems differ from our own U.S. version of education. Fascinating stuff.
In today’s class, the discussion became multi-dimensional with varying perspectives: a gentleman with a San Antonio non-profit organization that ran homes for federal inmates making the transition to non-incarcerated life, an attorney who works to right the wrongs in criminal justice and a medical doctor who works for the Department of Defense and who had worked within the criminal justice system along the Arizona border.
I could go on and on about what I learned, including the surprising key argument made by civil rights lawyer and author Michelle Alexander of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” the book being studied for the class. Alexander wrote that there are more African American men incarcerated today than the total number we had in all of slavery. What a sad statement about today’s criminal justice situation.
University Presbyterian is a small church with a utilitarian-like sanctuary. No stained glass, elaborate statues or exceptional architecture, but it does have a pipe organ. The organist plays from a balcony overlooking the sanctuary. Took me a while to figure out where the music originated. Why do disembodied sounds and words disturb me?
Once the Call to Worship was given by the white robed minister, who wears the traditional liturgical vestment (alb) of Presbyterian ministers, the female pastor with decorative stole draped around her neck and rope tied around the waist waited at the front while a procession of children came in from the back. One carried a Bible, another a candle, and yet another held a pitcher of water. This reminded me a bit of St. Mary Cathedral I’d visited the week before.
Unlike Baptist churches, Presbyterians have the choir seated to the left and face right. Hymns are the traditional type of music used in worship and people dress in slacks, dresses, jeans or whatever. As expected from the newsletter statement about inclusion, members comprise all ethnicities and gender preferences. However, this church has an overwhelming number of those in the 60+ age group. Even given that, midway through the service, a time for Children’s Moments was given, which is a short sermon for those in the knee to waist-high group.
An announcement then came for everyone to view the art exhibit on tour in the educational building. All the artwork had come from a former UPC member living in California and spending her last days on this earth following a cancer diagnosis. After that, came the Prayer for Illumination, Scripture Reading and a beautiful acapella solo by a young woman with a angelic-like voice. I admire those who can sing without background music. That’s true talent!
As expected, the well-researched sermon “the Greening Power of God” depicted the wonderful life of Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179), who demonstrated the importance of women’s contributions to the intellectual life of the middle Ages. (I took that wording from the Church Bulletin, because I didn’t know anything about her until today. Yes, I’m sadly undereducated about those who lived before the 19th century).
After the sermon came the offering and it happened right where it was supposed to….after the sermon. If you remember, I spoke about this in a previous blog about how it felt wrong for the offering to come before the sermon. Now I realize that perception came from my previous Presbyterian Church influence. I’d been wondering about that. During the offering, I believe the church played a recorded piece of music and I must say, it was absolutely beautiful.
Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper
After last week’s service, I appreciate two things about Presbyterians, 1) they make it quite clear for first-time visitors to know what is going on and what is expected during the service – no guessing, and 2) for the first time since this journey, I found a church that serves real home-baked bread with a gluten-free option for those who often must abstain from the Lord’s Supper due to dietary consideration. (Sorry, Catholics….no wine though, only grape juice).
Post Service Commentary
My partiality may show here, but Presbyterians have something that I truly appreciate – an intellectual view of God and the community in which we all live. For those who want to clap, jump from pews and raise your hands in the air, Presbyterian worship probably isn’t your cup of tea. However, I feel like Presbyterian worship falls somewhere in the middle between Baptists and Catholics – a more familiar service to what I expect with a more reverential approach to worshipping God.
Even if you don’t want to tarry into a University Presbyterian service, go to 300 Bushnell Street and spend some time underneath this magnificent oak tree that sits on the church property. I think you’ll be as humbled by its grandeur as I was. I don’t think I even got half of its magnificence in this photo. Needed a wide angle lens.
Off to Dallas, or specifically Allen, TX next week. Since I don’t know where I’ll be on Sunday, maybe Dallas, maybe Austin, maybe San Antonio or somewhere on I-35 between, it will be catch-as-catch-can. Maybe it will be a mystery church. Anyone have any ideas? The more bizarre the better, in my book that makes for interesting reading.