Sunday #12 – Hope Center Church, 4545 N. Loop 1604 W., San Antonio, TX
One of the positive sides of visiting 50 churches in one year is that you can wear the same dress every Sunday and know that no one is wondering why you don’t make another trip to the thrift store. I have this one very comfortable dress and prefer to wear it to church. Wouldn’t work if I had to go the same church every week.
Since the start of my church exploration in the same dress, I’ve met many people who are fascinated by the journey. They wonder about their own courage if they were to tackle the same, while others tell me about the churches they’ve visited in the past. Makes for great conversation.
What surprised me the most is to learn of others who have made a similar trek. I met Rebecca about a month ago. She was raised Catholic and had previously taken classes at University of the Incarnate Word. While there, she took an ecumenical course that required her class to visit many different churches. She had visited many of the same faiths that I had and we really enjoyed comparing notes. I quickly wondered if other colleges required the same of their students for certain classes. She said that endeavor really opened her eyes.
After I began my journey, I wanted to see if others had blogged about doing something similar. I fortunately ran across Steve Fuller, who wrote The Church Experiment. A much better writer than I, his 2009 blogging journey intersperses some rip roaring comedy in places.
Another person I met the week after my first foray into church hopping was Lisa, a 39-year-old woman who had answered my Craigslist posting for a free coffee maker. She stopped by to pick it up for her new parish in south San Antonio. I learned that she and her husband started visiting different churches four years ago, but only during the summer when they had off from teaching Sunday School. She and her husband Danny began their summer church journeys to better understand what others believe and how they worship. They then take that information back to their Sunday School children to help them understand and appreciate the differences.
Here’s a short interview I did a few weeks ago.
From where did the idea of visiting churches begin?
When I met my second husband, he wasn’t from here. He wasn’t as church-going as I was, so I thought I’d get him started back to see if it would become a part of his life. He just went along with me, but really got into it.
What did you get out of visiting different churches and parishes?
I have a strong belief that we need to understand different beliefs and cultures. In the Catholic faith, we have people come into the church that are what you would call converts. We like to understand what their previous beliefs have been and what drew them to the Catholic Church.
What have your own children gotten from this endeavor?
My daughter attends a public school and is now almost 12. She comes home with questions all the time about four of her friends who are Mormon. She invites the girls over, but they are never permitted to come for an overnight stay, saying they are not allowed to spend time with their friends in that way. So, I’ve helped her not to judge, but simply to ask questions.
What is your basic philosophy on different religions?
For the most part, everybody has their beliefs and a God they believe in. As long as you are going somewhere and having that connection, that’s the whole thing. We all need faith; we all need peace. No matter what you believe in, we are all human. We need to treat people with a little respect. That generates more peace and love.
Have you ever had anyone look askance at you for “church hopping?”
Funny that you should ask – most remarks come from my family; others come from church friends. I tell those people that I’m firm in my Catholic beliefs. I believe there is nothing wrong in visiting a different religion so you can learn about their beliefs. We always go to a Catholic Mass on the weekend when we visit another church, so we always attend to our faith first. Most people agree with me. If we would all drop our fears and learn about someone else’s faith, we will learn more and have more understanding. Getting to know other people and what they believe is a first step. If people will take that first step, I think our world would be a better place.
So now on to the Pentecostal church I will visit today. The 9 am service is one hour and 45 minutes…oh my! But the second one at 11:00 is TWO hours long. I’m headed to the first one. 🙂
Why This Church?
This week, I needed to stretch my comfort zone and visiting a Pentecostal Church would be a reach. Earlier in the week, I looked up Pentecostal churches in San Antonio. I immediately had a question as to why Assembly of God churches came up in a search for Pentecostal ones, but got that answer today.
Churches are notorious for having lousy websites, but this one stood out above the rest, and the church was nearby.
My Preconceived Ideas of Pentecostal Churches
I only knew one person from my early grade school years that was possibly Pentecostal. She always wore dresses below her knees and never cut her hair, so that’s about the extent of my exposure to anyone who was raised in the Pentecostal church. Based on that, here is what I suspect I’ll find today.
- Women wearing longer dresses or skirts – so much for my above the knee dress. Guess today, I’ll pull out the skirt I wore to the Mormon Church.
- Women’s tresses will be long or pulled into a bun – not much I can do to fit in other than wearing a wig; I don’t have one.
- Pentecostals probably raise their hands in praise to God
- Pentecostals likely practice glossolalia – “speaking in tongues.”
- Some Pentecostals worship with rattlesnakes, though I think that is relegated to the Pentecostals in Kentucky.
Yep….late again. I wrote down 545 N Loop 1604 W instead of 4545, so wound up at the Shrine Center. Only thing going on there was a motorcycle training course. I need to get my motorcycle license, but didn’t have the time today. Besides, the skirt would have been a problem.
I pulled into the church lot and saw a greeter at the door, so I knew I wasn’t too, too late. He greeted me, then once inside, I met Bebe Gonzalez, who told me there wasn’t a program for the service, but to take a seat anywhere and that the first song had almost finished.
I took a seat mid-way through the rows and rows of chairs. At the start of the service, only about 25-30 people were standing in front of about 450 chairs. But it was the early service, so I expected the crowd to be less. By the end of the service, about 90 people had rolled in, all fairly young to middle-aged (women in dresses and long skirts, men wore everything from suit and tie to jeans).
During the last few stanzas of that song, an older woman with gray hair pulled into a chignon came over, hugged me, then said she was glad I had come to worship with them. Similar to the pastors from Kendall County Cowboy Church and Church Under the Bridge, pastor Nathan Scoggins also came over and introduced himself.
After the small choir, band and worship song leaders finished the first song, to which people sung from words on a large overhead screen, the pastor walked to the pulpit that stood amidst a backdrop of heavy purple velvet curtains, purple lighting and with gold theatre-like drapes hanging on both sides of the stage. He gave details about some church business, including information on what the church would soon be buying, and then about the architect who would be hired to start work on the new sanctuary. Pleased to hear that the church would start this project without going into debt; that told me the church was building from a place of financial strength.
Then came the offering. Earlier than an offering I’ve seen any church have, this one was a bit different. After some kind of quiet blessing up front, the men sauntered around and handed the plate to a few people. Never came by me and they didn’t seem to have any pass-the-plate-down-the-pew structure to the whole process.
Rockin’ and Rollin’ From the Pulpit
Then, Reverend Robert Bayer came to the podium to preach the third in a series of sermons – this one timely titled “A Flood to Remember.” Since the movie Noah hit the big screen this week, churchgoers throughout the nation have been critical of its creative license that expanded upon the biblical story.
Known within the church as being a biblical scholar, Rev. Bayer delivered a sermon based upon the bible, quoting countless versus throughout the Old and New Testament. By far, this sermon had more biblical references than all the other churches I had visited combined. Reverend Bayer heavily sprinkled his delivery with congregation engagement prompts like “Can I hear an Amen?” and “Someone shout HALLELUJAH!”
I’m not one for all the shouting and hollering from the pulpit, but Reverend Bayer is a delightful preacher who sprinkles his heavy-hitting sermon with light-hearted comedic insights that make it more palatable for a spiritual wuss like me. He even used a new reference for people like me in his sermon – “in-and-outers.” That beats “church hopper” or “church whore” as some wisecracking friends call me.
The reverend covered a lot of ground in this sermon. After talking about Noah, he touched on the rapture saying, “It’ll be ‘Halle’ here, then ‘lujah’ there!”
Moving on, he talked about Jesus feeding the masses in the bible, then asked, “What would you do if 5000 people showed up at your house for dinner?” He said, “There’s only so much water that can go into a soup.”
Then, he moved into thoughts around prayer and building an altar for thanks. He said, “First thing people do when they get on their knees is that they suddenly get the ‘gimmes’ instead of offering thanks.”
Then came the part of the service that can often feel uncomfortable for non-Pentecostal folk like me – the call for everyone to come down to the altar. Most everyone in the audience went to the front, sans me. Some laid their bodies across a couple of stairs, others knelt and while others stood behind them, all with arms raised high into the air. I heard a lot of moaning and praising going on. I stayed in my seat – I’m much more comfortable being the observer versus the participant in situations where I’m not entirely comfortable.
At one point during this altar call, the same gray-haired woman came over to me and said again how glad she was that I came, said “God bless you,” and “I hope you’ll come back some time.” That felt completely genuine and so welcoming. Then the lead pastor dismissed everyone and told the congregation to go greet someone after the service.
Post Service Commentary
All in all, this was a wonderful service. I happen to love the color purple, so the whole environment was soothing to me, minus the go-to-the-front and show how much you love and thank God portion. I liked the fact that this church is very focused on multinational worship. They have a Spanish service and would like to offer other services in different languages.
After the service, I went back to Bebe and learned why a Google search of “Pentecostal throws up hits on “Assembly of God.” She said, “At one time the two faiths were joined, but the Pentecostals split off when a difference in theology occurred, primarily related to baptism.” Assembly of God baptizes in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, whereas the Pentecostals baptize in the name of Jesus, believing that God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus are one.
So, no snakes, no healing demonstrations today, just arm-raising-amen-hallelujah praise of God.
I’m thinking it might be Scientology next week, but who knows? Any requests? I have committed to worship at a large Methodist Church for Easter, where they have an orchestra. That’ll be awesome.