Sunday #28 – San Antonio Mennonite Church, 1443 South St. Mary’s Street, San Antonio
Why this Church?
When I did a search of “churches in San Antonio,” this is one that came up. Since I’ve never known a Mennonite before, I hadn’t a clue what to expect and neither friends nor family were all that helpful. When I told several people about the next choice of church, the responses were similar: They’re like Amish, right? Can you drive your car there or do you have to arrive by horse and buggy?
While some of the fragmentation and variations of the Mennonites have some loose ties to the Amish, especially those conservative Mennonites in Russia where they do not use motors, paint or compressed air. However, I can assure you that the San Antonio Mennonite Church does use electricity, and my Smart Car was welcomed in the lot.
The Mennonites are a Christian group named after Menno Simons (1496-1561) of Friesland – a former Catholic priest who heard about this movement of people who shunned infant baptism. Menno wrote and articulated many of the teachings of earlier Swiss founders of the movement and hence, I guess that’s why they named the religion after him.
As of 2012, about 1.7 million Mennonites worship worldwide. Not sure why I never ran across one. Now I’ve met at least a few of these 1.7 million.
I also didn’t know something else. According to Wikipedia – my lazy butt option for research — Mennonites have become known as one of the historic peace churches because of their commitment to pacifism. I figured this out real quick during the service.
Located within the King William district, this little white church sits among some very old and well-kept homes just south of downtown San Antonio.
As I walked in the old and large wooden front doors, I met three women who immediately introduced themselves.
I noted a small table in the middle of the room near the front and two rows of pews strategically located at angles to the table. I asked where I should sit and was told that this pew placement facilitates the sharing that goes on around scripture during the service, but they are placed back in line during the rest of the year.
The women asked if I was new to the church and I responded by telling them a bit about my blog. One woman said that visiting churches is something they did as a church recently. Instead of meeting one Sunday, they were all instructed to go to a church they’d never been to before and report back about their experience as a newcomer during the following Sunday service. She said it was very enlightening.
They also told me that this Sunday the youth who had gone on a mission trip to Nicaragua would be giving a presentation about their trip.
I sat down on one of the wooden, and most unforgiving pews near the front, where a lectern had been placed. A Bible had been placed upon it – one I’d never seen before – The Inclusive Bible. Hmmm. Is this a Bible for the LGBT community? Forgot to ask about that one. Guess it’s back to Wikipedia for an explanation.
Okay, well it looks like this is the first egalitarian translation that attempts to rethink what kind of language has built barriers between the text and its readers. According to Amazon, the translators have sought new and non-sexist ways to express the same ancient truths. So now you and I both know.
As the service begins, I quickly count the number in attendance and that seems to be about 60 men and women, young and old dressed in an assortment of clothing from shorts and sandals, to jeans and dresses. This group is primarily Anglo, but I note a few people that may be of Hispanic decent.
The worship leader directed us to a blue folder where we’d find the first song – Here I am to Worship. I’d not heard of this one before, but enjoyed the music as a single guitar player helped us follow along and nab the right pitch. Then, we had a Call to Worship, followed by a Welcome and Introduction.
Unlike most church services, the introduction included people milling around all over the sanctuary and introducing themselves for several minutes. I, as well as others were introduced by people we’d just met.
After that, a few announcements were made and then an unusual part of the service occurred when the young, tall pastor Rachel Epp Miller stood in a striped t-shirt and black pants to ask for those with birthdays and/or anniversaries to come to the center of worship. Then others who remained in seats were asked to circle around the back of the honored to join in a Prayer of Thanksgiving.
From there, we sang another song in Spanish: Cuando el pobre.
Then came the offering while we sang a longer song. Unlike most churches where elders or deacons pass the plate, those in attendance came to the middle of the room to drop their offerings into a basket throughout the song. I couldn’t move that fast, so I waited until the end to deposit mine. I’d say this was similar to the Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church, but without the feeling that you had to give something.
During this whole time, young children laughed, crawled down the aisles, pitter pattered around and quietly chattered. It reminded me of the Mormon church at the Stone Oak Ward. A background of children noises prevailed, but no cries of anguish or distress – quite delightful!
Then those cherub faces were asked to come to the front to pick out an instrument from a basket. I think this might have occurred every Sunday, because the kids seemed to know which musical instrument they wanted – maracas, tamborines, drums, etc. Then we all sang a Spanish song – Alabare. Then the children left for Sunday School or nursery care.
Youth Presentation on Nicaragua
Several of the youth came to the front and while a slide show of their photographed adventures played on a large screen, the kids regaled us all with their thoughts and stories.
My favorite centered on their arrival in Nicaragua. The kids had picked up a bag of beans from HEB to give to their hosts, but somewhere in the bag was an errant piece of dried corn. The Nicaraguan authorities apparently don’t like corn, because that one kernel that HEB had mistakenly inserted held the group up for about 30 minutes for questioning.
The first young man said they didn’t have any soul-saving quotas on this trip and he was happy about that, but they did get a crash course in Nicaraguan history. The group seemed most touched by the immense poverty in the country and each shared how this had affected them once back at home. Most Nicaraguan families — and they can be as large as nine in many cases – live on about $2.00 a day.
As the kids talked of their attempts of solidarity with the Nicaraguan people, I began to feel that this service and these people felt very similar to those I met at the Quaker Meeting a few months ago. Sure enough, I find out later they are known to be pacifists.
This became even more clear when the worship leader asked people to share the places in the world where war was going on or where there was strife that needed our prayers. He asked the man who talked about the Russian/Ukranian conflict to stand to one side, a man raised his hand for the Israeli/ Palestinan conflict stood to another side, a woman who stood for the African people suffering from Eboli and finally a man stood for the LGBT communities around the world that are oppressed. Then, we were asked to join the place in the world where our hearts and thoughts often took us in prayer. I went to the man who stood in prayer for the Russian/Ukranian conflict.
This was quite different, but I got a sense of who these people are through this process – all very community minded and reaching out in prayer for peace.
Post Service Thoughts
After dismissal, people thanked me for coming. I dropped my offering in the basket and headed out the front door to take a few pictures of the front of the church. That took a while and still no one ever came out of the front doors. In the end, I didn’t know whether they all stayed for another part of the service, or they were just a friendly group and couldn’t leave each other. Hmmmmm.
This is one of the friendliest and most relaxed group of people I’ve worshipped with in a while. They seemed very “Quaker” for the most part. I’m sure much of what I experienced was out of the norm for this group due to the time of year. Might be fun to go back and see what a Mennonite service is like at other times.
This photo should have given me some clue as to the nature of these people. Missed it as I walked in.
I also liked the photo below. Gives you a flavor of San Antonio, doesn’t it? Tile roofs and lots of cactus.
Still have all the Jewish services, Hindu, Religious Science, Unity and Episcopalian. And, I discovered one on my run this morning. I’d been driving by what I thought was a non-denominational church all this time, but discovered it is a FourSquare Church. Had to look that one up, but it seems to be some type of Pentecostal-type church. May have to try that one out if I’m pressed for time next weekend.