25 Weeks – Which is My Favorite Church Thus Far?

Last month, a high school friend, Kim Bell Thibodeaux discovered my blog and subsequently asked which church had been my favorite thus far. I thought about that question as I mentally went back through them all. Then the thought struck that picking a favorite was much like picking my favorite child. Each of my children arrived at a different time; each came with different strengths and talents; and each hold a special place in my heart — just no way to have a favorite.

So, instead of trying to select the one church that is my favorite, I’d like to share what is special, or held special meaning for me with each church:

1. Crossbridge Church (non-denominational) — This, the first church I visited on the SteepleStretch journey, holds special meaning because it marked the first time I tarried into a church alone, not knowing what to expect, but being totally open to the experience. This was also my first exposure to the new approaches to worship that have developed all around the country — a church that doesn’t conform to any one denomination and has chosen a generic church name, — a church that offers music from a rock band with words highlighted on large projection screens awash in theatrical lighting, — a church that has a “come as you are” attitude toward church attire.

2.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – Stone Oak Ward (Mormon) — I talk often about this church because this one dispelled one big preconception that I had going in — that I would be preyed upon to give up my name, address, phone and email, so a missionary could visit me later. Instead, I found a church where no one said hello, shook my hand, asked who I was, why I was there, or even said hello. I like when my ideas of things get shaken up a bit. What I most loved about this church was watching the families. They all sat together as a family and the teens held their baby brothers and sisters, stroking their hair, comforting them and generally offering this amazing demonstration of love toward their family.

3. Kendall County Cowboy Church – Boerne, TX (Cowboy Church) — This church will always have a special place in my heart because I never knew the concept existed before I began this journey and I found the idea completely fascinating. Donning my jeans and cowboy boots, I slipped into my chair and suddenly felt at home, wondering how my little home town of Nome would have embraced this concept if a Cowboy Church has blossomed in that community.

4. Cornerstone Church – San Antonio (non-denominational church with Assembly of God roots) — I walked away from this church appreciating the many services offered through its ministry, yet thinking how polarizing some church leaders can be with their stances and strong rhetoric on various social issues. This particular church helped me to understand more about myself, specifically what brings me closer to God and what type of service and message negatively affects me. Even the most negative experiences can create great personal reflection and understanding.

5. Rishho Kosei-Kai Buddhist Dharma Center – San Antonio, TX (Buddhist) —  Sometimes I’m grateful for negative experiences, because they lead me to see the flip side. I count this visit as the flip side and a most memorable one at that. I loved the serenity and acceptance by all of those in attendance at this service. Before my visit, I had long appreciated the Buddhist view on “oneness” and had embraced much of the Buddhist approach to life. At the end of the service, I got to see first-hand how these people put their faith into practice and that will always remain a special memory.

6. Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church – San Antonio (Black, African American, or a church of color? – I’m still unsure of the proper way to categorize this church) — This visit will forever be fixed in my memory. As one of only….well….one white person in the group that Sunday, I felt totally welcomed and embraced in the service. I found my thoughts going back to the 1960s as a small child, visiting my grandmother’s church in Orange, TX. With everyone dressed to the nines, from dresses, hats, coats and ties, I remembered a time long ago when everyone dressed like this for church, despite the Texas heat. I found such spirit and love in this church and enjoyed learning more about the black community that made up this church. The songs of “struggle” and “overcoming” provided such commentary about past, and in many respects current, racial struggles.

7. Church Under the Bridge – San Antonio (a church with a homeless mission) — While I wish I had gone to this church years ago when the group physically held services under the highway overpasses in San Antonio, I love the fact that this church gives everything to its ultimate mission — to feed, clothe and support the area’s homeless population. Sometimes you run across a charity or non-profit organization that you know, without a doubt, is utilizing the donations to support the cause versus the overhead of the staff. This is one of those organizations, and I’m so grateful that San Antonio has people like those at Church Under the Bridge who give and give and keep on giving.

8. St. Mary Cathedral – Austin (Catholic) — I went to this church for the stained glass, but came away with tears of laughter. Sometimes you go to a church and its the people that you go with that makes the service special. In this particular instance, I went with my sister Suzanne, who always has a running commentary that keeps me in stitches. While I appreciated the ritual and reverence in this service, it was my sister who made this church service the most memorable.

9. University Presbyterian Church – San Antonio (Presbyterian) — Again, going to church with friends and family does make the service memorable and certainly, this was the case with this church. I joined family who is long time members of this particular church. However, what made this church special for me was the Sunday School class that I attended. Invited by cousin Larry, I attended his Sunday School class, which was doing a series on the criminal injustice system. The knowledge and wisdom combined in that one room provided the class a chance to hear from all sides of the issue — from an attorney working within the system, a non-profit representative who runs homes for federal inmates making the transition to non-incarcerated life and and a medical doctor who works for the Department of Defense and who had worked within the criminal justice system along the Arizona border. More people might go to Sunday School, if classes like this could be put together in other churches. Amazing!

10. Virtual Church (online church) — What could be special and memorable about this experience? For me, it was learning all the different ways in which technology allows church leaders to reach the unchurched masses — from house bound invalids to people like me who have had a weekend that left no time for attending a church. I found the message to be memorable and the experience to be interesting. I’m not sure I could go to Virtual Church Sunday after Sunday, but I’m extremely grateful for technology and the way it has been used to reach out to those who can’t attend church.

11. Trinity Baptist Church – San Antonio (Southern Baptist) —  Due to the title of this blog, I’d looked forward to visiting this church to see their recently refurbished steeple. What I loved about this church was the research that led me to it and the resulting research I was able to relay about steeples. This one also brought back many memories of worship in the Baptist church years ago.

12. Hope Center Church  – San Antonio (Pentecostal) — My favorite part of this church visit was battling my fear over attending. Once there, I found the people to be welcoming and the service to be interesting, though I didn’t participate in the final part where almost the entire church went to the pulpit area to lie across the stairs in prayer. I loved this churches’ use of theatrical lighting and that my idea of a Pentecostal church was so different than my experience.

13. The Church of Scientology Mission of San Antonio (Scientology) — Again, combating fear is what remains memorable about this church visit. I found the whole service rather strange, but having gone and then being able to share something about the denomination that everyone wonders about make it a memorable experience.

14. Church of Christ, Scientist — San Antonio (Christian Science) — This church service remains one of the least enjoyable for me, yet the one from which I learned the most — all from the Christian Science readers from around the world who shared their thoughts with such great depth and passion. I’ve certainly had an experience where the service wasn’t much, but the people made the difference. Yet this time I experienced something totally different. I had a lackluster service experience, but it was Christian Science readers of the blog that drew me in and made me take a second look at what has drawn people to this faith.

15. Coker United Methodist Church — San Antonio (Methodist) — This church was one of my favorite because after I wrote the blog, I heard from a neighbor in Golden, CO where I moved from who reached out to me. I had attended her childhood church, where she was married and learned that her grandfather built the church. I loved thinking about how small the world truly is by attending this service.

16. An Evening with Dr. David Jeremiah — Austin Event (Evangelist) — What made this evening special and memorable was the invitation from my sister to attend this event. From the evening, I learned what a genuine person Dr. Jeremiah is and why people are attracted to his straightforward message. I’ll never forget the post-evening conversation between me and my sister that had us laughing so hard we couldn’t drive due to the tears in our eyes.

17. The Church at Creek’s End — Spring, TX (Interdenominational) — A true favorite due to the opportunity to hear an old high school friend preach. What a great experience to see how someone you went to school with has made a difference in the lives of the people within a community. It was also great to see how someone makes the transition from being raised in one denomination and then being led to another type of worship experience.

18. Al-Madinah Mosque Children Education & Civic Center — San Antonio (Muslim) — Why a favorite? Because I saw a Muslim woman enter the local library and then asked God to meet her to answer my questions about the upcoming service I’d planned to attend. In the end, I made a great friend who helped me understand more about the Islamic faith.

19. Concordia Lutheran Church — San Antonio — (Lutheran). I’d been wanting to visit this church to see how it differed from what I’d experienced after a Lutheran wedding I’d attended years ago. As one of the largest Lutheran churches in this area, its unique cross is seen from Hwy 1604, and I really enjoyed learning more about the Missouri-Synod from one of the elders in the church.

20. Friends Meeting of San Antonio — San Antonio — (Quaker). This was a favorite because it was so different than what I expected and so different from every other church I could attend. A service in complete silence. I don’t think there is one other service that has touched me so deeply, so it will be one forever remembered.

21.  First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Antonio – (Unitarian Universalist). Some services don’t touch you, but afterwards they can knock you off your feet. That blast came from the blog comments around the country and world. Somehow this blog post got posted on another site and people began commenting from all over. I had such fun learning more about the views and opinions of the Unitarian Universalists.

22. St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church — San Antonio – (Greek Orthodox). Again, meeting someone as I entered the church who could guide me along in a service for which I had no reference was wonderful. However, what I’ll always remember from this church will be the long service that ended with a 40-day blessing for twin girls that had twin brothers following along behind the priest as he carried the girls in the crooks of both arms to the front of the church.

23. Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witness, — San Antonio – (Jehovah’s Witness). Why would this be one of my favorite? Because this service was so unlike anything I imagined and then conquering my fears of going in there alone. I enjoyed the wonderful people I met while there, even though I didn’t learn much and most of it left me perplexed.

24. Oak Hills Church — San Antonio – (Thought it was Church of Christ, but it has since become non-denominational). Loved this church because of meeting a new friend there and seeing her respect and passion for their well-known pastor Max Lucado.

25. San Geronimo Chapel — Taos, New Mexico – (Catholic with a Native Indian Twist). History, history, history! Truly a site to behold in the architecture, but I think learning about how these native indians hid their spiritual traditions within the Catholic faith forced upon them was what intrigued me most.

 

On to the next 25!!!

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North Central Christian Church – San Antonio

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Sunday #27 – North Central Christian Church, 1300 Evans Road, San Antonio, TX 78258

Why this Church?

Ever since my best friend in high school said that she went to a Christian church, I’d wondered about the faith. I wondered how the “Christian” church became more Christian than other Christian churches and took on the name. In this service, I learned that they are also known as the Disciples of Christ.

This church had advertised with a flyer in the Welcome Wagon package I received when I moved to San Antonio, so it was a no-brainer that I would choose this Christian church.

Unfortunately, all my notes from this service have been lost. I’ve drug my feet on making this post, because I hate relying on my memory. This may be a short post. <smile>

Arrival

photo 1-16      I arrived on time (phewwww) and several people immediately greeted me. As I took my seat in one of the cushioned chairs, people quickly came over to introduce themselves. Arriving several minutes before the service, I had the opportunity to visit with an older couple beside me who gave me a bit of information about the church.

The church has been in this north side of San Antonio for about 10 years and had been a church plant from a larger church in another part of San Antonio. It draws from the many subdivisions that surround the Stone Oak area of San Antonio.

The auditorium was rather stark in design, as most church plants tend to be for a while. The people varied in age, but I found this service to be filled with a bit more elderly people than I’d expected. Yep….older than me. (Will wonders ever cease?)

Service Begins

A small band hit the first few notes and I immediately smiled when I realized that this would be my first Western type band to play. I’d been wondering when I’d find some Western sounding music and this was a complete surprise. The main singer was wonderful and the backup voices had just the right pitch. Unlike most of the churches I’ve been in lately, we only had to stand for a few songs and then got to sit down and listen. That was awesome! May have to come back to this church again.

Announcements came after the music and I loved how relaxed everyone seemed – sharing additional information and kidding the pastor from the back of the room. Yes, this truly was a friendly crowd! He asked for messages of gratitude from the week and information about additional people who might need prayer. We learned that one man’s daughter was in labor at the time and he hoped to have a grand baby by the end of the day. Another woman had just retired, others had family members in the military that were coming home and finally a woman said her daughter had just become engaged. The daughter was an anchor person at a TV station and her beau surprised her by asking her on the air after she gave the unsuspecting lead in to the story. That viral video went around the world and landed them in one of the London newspapers.

After a few more songs and the passing of the plate, it was time for the main event.

Time for the Message

Rev. Don Tuttle gave Sunday’s message that he generously sprinkled with a good bit of scripture from both the Old and New Testament. Without my notes, I’m completely lost about this particular sermon. But it was good.

After the message and more songs came the Lord’s Supper. The only difference I found in the Christian church is that the wine (grape juice) and bread (chicklet-sized crackers) were distributed together with the wine samples around the outside of the tray and the crackers on the inside. As the deacons served the Lord’s Supper, each church member drank the grape juice then chose a piece of cracker, then ate and drank before passing it on to the next person. That slowed things down a bit. But it all works!

After the Lord’s Supper, some of the young people were called to the center of the auditorium for their commissioning and prayers for a safe journey on an upcoming mission trip.

Then everyone was dismissed.

Post Service Thoughts

I found this congregation to be exceptionally friendly. People from all ethnicities were in attendance and no matter what you wore – jeans, dresses, shorts – you’d feel completely comfortable.

The Christian church is very similar to others, but I like this one’s laid back feel.

What’s Next?

Due to family being in town and work obligations, I’ve taken two weeks off, so now I have to put the pedal to the metal to make up for lost time. Might have to take in two services this week – a Jewish one on Friday or Saturday and another on Sunday. Maybe this time, I won’t lose my notes!

Passion City Church – (a Jesus Church) – Atlanta, GA

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Sunday #26 – Passion City Church, 515 Garson Drive, Atlanta, GA

Why this Church?

While visiting my daughters in Atlanta and running the Peachtree Road Race 10K on July 4, I decided to go to the church my college-aged daughter attends – Passion City Church. From the outset, I thought perhaps this was a non-denominational church, but my daughter quickly corrected me and said Passion City is not non-denominational, nor an interdenominational but is called a Jesus Church. Okay.

What I found was a church unlike any that I’ve previously visited. This church must be doing it right for the city, because the 10:00 service was packed, and I understand that the three other services are equally well attended.

Arrival

The girls and I pulled into the lot and were directed into a parking spot. I saw no steeple, stairs, stained glass or cross. Instead, we walked up to a large, white building that looked more like a warehouse, and indeed, it had been in the past. Passion City Church is housed in an old Home Depot Expo building — a concept that never really took off. After Home Depot pulled out, the building became a warehouse for a golf company, then the church moved in after it had been empty for a while.

The warehouse…er, uh, church, is located in the middle of what once had several strip clubs. In the earlier church days, one of strip club parking lots was used during church services for overflow. One church member told me that it felt rather odd at the time, but yet so like where Jesus would have been. In fact, the church has had several dancers from those clubs become regular churchgoers.

As we walked down the large expanse of the hallway leading to the worship area, I noted a modern-like design that reminded me of a retail Apple store. Large monitors hung on white walls and dots of bright orange from round cushions in the middle of the hallway caught my eye, as well as the rather…okay….really odd cross. Looked rugged from a distance, but as I approached, I suddenly realized it to be made of old telephone cord. My quirky mind immediately wondered if this wasn’t a piece of abstract art that churchgoers were supposed to derive some personal meaning. Something akin to – “Cut the cord and go direct to Jesus.” I smiled, thinking that surely some of the SteepleStretch readers would have something to add in the comments after seeing this.

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A few steps on and I looked to my left, where I saw two half buses with little children going in and out. I asked my daughter about that and she said it was a local mission project to outfit disadvantaged children with school supplies in Atlanta. Loved the visual for this project and found it captivating for children and adults alike. Kudos for that one, Passion City Church.

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Speaking of children, I must mention the most unusual children’s Sunday School set up that I’ve ever seen. A few steps further, I saw a bank of electronic sign-in things and a room filled with camping tents.

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I immediately wanted to know about it, so I wandered over to speak to the man standing guard at the door. He shared that parents sign in electronically and both the parent and child get a security wristband, then the child goes to a specific tent that is marked by age. The children have a Sunday session with a couple of teachers, then at some point during the hour, all the children will come together at the “pond” – a blue lake painted in the middle of the floor. Band members leave the adult service service after their performance and then play for the younger children in theirs. I found this concept completely fascinating. The man said the children love it and when the large room is needed for other reasons throughout the week, the room is quickly and easily transformed. Second kudos!

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Just down from that area, I found a large white wall with light bulbs on it. I could vaguely make out the wording “Jesus is Life” and asked my daughter about it. She said that after you accept Jesus Christ, you can come place a light bulb for Jesus on the board. Kind of cool. These people really think outside the pew!

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Finally, we were at the worship center where we found seats in cushioned chairs. (See triple selfie below of me and my awesome daughters).

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The room was dark with a stage lit in purple and blue light. In this particular service, I saw a wide variety of ages, but most were in their 20s, 30s and 40s and outfitted in a mishmash of clothing that ranged from t-shirts and shorts, to jeans and dresses.

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Then I realized I’d forgotten something  to write on. None of the door holders handed out an order of service or church bulletin, so I went back to the front to ask for a piece of paper. You would have thought I’d asked for a Smith Corona typewriter. No one had any paper; everything being electronic in this building. WOW! Eventually, someone dug for and managed to find two pieces of paper in a cabinet below — used on one side, but blank on the other. SCORE! Then, I was ready for the concert…..uh, service.

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Service Begins

An 8-piece band hits the stage in jeans and t-shirts and OF COURSE….we all stand up. By now, you know how opposed I am to standing on my feet for song after song, as if I were attending a Deep Purple or ZZ Top concert, instead of church – especially so after developing a toe blister while running that 10K two days before. From the first strum, It felt like a rock concert. This church had either invested in some serious mics, sound equipment or had hit the nail on the acoustical head. I felt the base notes reverberate throughout my body.

At this point, I’d begun to wonder whether what my daughter said could be true. Does rising to one’s feet as the music begins and then staying vertical really show reverence to God? What about those faiths that kneel, sit or prostrate? Does God really care? What about raising one’s hand in the hair as a sign of praise? Many in the churchgoing group were doing so. In fact, I thought about raising my hand, but only to ask if I could please sit down. I think God likes runners, too, and would want us to be comfortable and thinking of God, instead of our blistered feet.

After three songs (standing), we sat. Ahhhhh. Someone made a few announcements about the Community Groups that meet around the Atlanta area to help those located far from the church feel connected to those living near them.

Then came the offering. While large white buckets were passed among the thousands of people in attendance, words filled the four large overhead projection screens that gave a further indication of tithing technology: “Send a text with any amount to 45777 to give to Passion City Church. I’m “pre-Internet” and “pre-Smartphone” so I opted for the bucket.

Time for the Message

My daughter loves going to this church to hear lead pastor Dr. Louie Giglio preach. The man has a strong drive to connect young adults to the message of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately for me, he was preaching at a leadership convention in Australia. So, I had the wonderful opportunity to hear the Pastor Clay Scroggins from Browns Bridge Community Church in Cumming, GA.

Scroggins started the new church series “From Darkness to Light” by telling stories about his three kids, aged 5, 3 and 1. (From a quick look at his Twitter page @ClayScroggins, sounds like he has another on the way.) To set the mood for the message, he talked of trying to herd his cats (children) into the van, when his 5-year-old daughter darted back into the house. When he yelled from below that she needed to “come on and let’s go.” She popped her head from upstairs and yelled down, “I have to get my lipstick or I won’t be pretty.” A cute comment like this can actually make a parent’s heart sink, as it did his.

As he talked from the stage that held a white chair and a large on-stage monitor, he shared how we often cover up and conceal our faults, sins and defects because we think the world won’t accept or love us as we are.

His message centered on the Bible’s story of the “Woman at the Well.” In the story, we never get to learn this woman’s name, so she is forever known as the “woman at the well.” We do however eventually learn that she has had five husbands and the man she is currently living with is not even her husband. As the encounter progresses, we see that she is blown away that Jesus knows this about her even though she tries to conceal these facts.

Scroggins drove the point home that God doesn’t turn his love on and off depending upon what we do or have done. He stated that, “God’s love is like a waterfall, not a water faucet.”

Loved the engaging, well-delivered message and felt afterward that I hadn’t missed a thing with this stand-in pastor.

Then, we STOOD for two more songs before the end of the service.

What’s Next?

Been on the road for several weeks, so this Sunday I’ll be back in San Antonio. I’ll be playing catch up on work, so I think I’ll take in a service from a church closer to home – Episcopal? Christian Church? Honestly, having attended 26 different churches thus far, my close options are dwindling.