Northside Church of Christ

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Sunday #38 – Northside Church of Christ, 19818 Hwy 281 North, San Antonio, TX

Why this church?

I put this denomination off for a good while because thoughts of worshipping in a church that uses no musical instruments didn’t exactly thrill me. Yes, all the music is sung Acappella.

With that said, the faith always held some curiosity, especially since one of my college sorority sisters, Debra Maffett went to a Church of Christ church and also had a great voice. Later, her talent, along with her great body, personality and looks enabled her to win the 1983 Miss America crown. I always wondered whether growing up in a church without musical instruments would make you a better singer. After today, I see how it could..

Arrival

Can’t say enough about signage. I knew about where this church was located, but being set off the road a bit, I wasn’t quite sure where to turn. While clipping along Highway 281 North, I missed the turn. Looping back around is not an easy task, so I immediately wished the church had provided more signage along the highway. Signs are there at the entrance, but visitors are on it before having a chance to turn.

Once inside the church campus, visitors will find many entrances. I wound up coming to the handicapped parking and parked near that area, then couldn’t decide where I should enter. Fortunately, two people walking by guided me in.

The building has a similar set up (just on a smaller scale) to Oak Hills Church – lots of meeting areas, great places for the kids to play and lots of people milling about. I found the worship center pretty quickly and watched kids as they reached for their favorite cloth “busy bag” on a wooden tree just outside the sanctuary doors. What a cool idea! Kids sure liked it.

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Then, I went to the restroom. I mention that only because as I entered the restroom, the church service had just begun. How did I know that? –Because the church pipes the auditorium sound into the restrooms. Cool idea number two!

Service Begins

Once finished washing my hands, I walked into the large center while the “2-Minute Warming” was going on. During this aptly named time, people left their seats to shake hands, greet visitors and tell everyone around them hello. Another cool idea! How many creative ideas can one church come up with?

After the 2-Minute Warming, everyone stayed standing while the music appeared on the two large overhead screens. I’ve seen this disposal of hymn books for overhead projection of songs at many churches, but it’s usually just the words that appear – never the scored music. That really helped — at least for those of us who read music.

As I looked around the congregation, I noticed the attire to be wide spread, from jeans to three-piece suits. The racial makeup was equally broad, with many African Americans singing, along with Hispanics in the crowd of small children to the elderly and everything in between.

For the second and third songs, we were asked to sit.

<<Love this church already!>>

What’s neat about their approach to music is that different people in the congregation hold microphones and sing the various bass, soprano and alto parts, so it’s easy to follow the music. And, the congregants all sing. I kind of enjoyed being in a service where the congregation doesn’t just stand there humming while a band sings atop their own worldly stage. In this church, everyone sings and it sounds GOOD!

http://youtu.be/3QWQqKUkFG8

As I sat for the next song, I gazed at the simple design of the building that included a single wooden cross that hung over the baptismal font. When the song ended, we were then led in prayer.

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Lord’s Supper and My Great Gluttony Faux Pas

One thing I like that many church websites to do is to include a “What to Expect” page. I read this one first, but one important little tidbit had been left out. As the deacons passed out the “bread” from row to row, I took the brass plate from the woman a few seats down from me and grabbed a rectangle of what tasted like stale Styrofoam, leaving two pieces in the tray, then I passed the bread on to the person at my left, I saw her pick up the cracker and break off a small piece, then put it in her mouth.

Guess I was supposed to break the bread instead of taking a whole piece. <oooops>

Then, we continued to sing while the deacons passed out the wine — in grape juice form.

Service Continues

By the time we get to the next song (can’t even remember the number of songs we sung), I’m really into the music sans instruments. During “How Great is God,” the leader had all the basses stand to start the song, then a call for anyone singing soprano to stand, then altos. It truly was a great song, sung in an unusual way that put everyone in the mood for the message.

The Message

Visiting pastor Jack Evans, Jr. of Fort Worth, TX gave the message. As the author of “What’s Love Got to do with it?” and “Trouble in the Hood” ambled to the stage in a dark, three-pieced suit, I figured quickly that we were all in for a gospel delivery treat.

Evans, who had recently been to Jamaica and become enamored with the accent, spoke on the topic “No problem, Mon.” He started by saying that even the atheist needs God, then launched into the story about an atheist man who denied God most of his life. One day the Atheist was out enjoying the woods when a bear came out of nowhere and started after him. The atheist climbed higher and higher in the tree while the bear stood below. As the man reached the top of the tree waiting for the bear to start his ascent, he cried out to the Lord and said, “I know I haven’t believed in you God, but I do now. Please save me. Please make this bear a Christian bear, God.” Suddenly, the bear crossed his paws in front of him and started growling the words: Heavenly Father, thank you for the meal I’m about to receive.

Preaching from below the Lucite lectern centered on the stage, Evans rolled from one biblical story to the next – all in illustration of the fact that with God “it’s no problem, mon.” He first talked about Hezikiah, then Elijah, Elisha, Shaddrach, Meshach and Abednego then ended with the story of Jonah and the whale. Throughout his lively delivery and prompts for more audience participation, Evans quoted memorized scripture after scripture and at one point I thought he might completely recite one of the lesser-known books of the Bible from memory. His memory was just that good, and even better than the pastor I’d heard while visiting the Pentecostal Hope Center Church.

He ended by leading into the altar call where we stood and sang.

Finally after a few brief announcements, the Shepherd’s Prayer was said for those grieving, then we all had a special musical treat from a group of summer touring Southwestern Christian University students who sung the parting song.

Post Meeting Thoughts

Sometimes churches surprise me and this one sure did. Not only with all the unique and creative ideas found within, but also how I enjoyed the music and felt while everyone sang. An Acapella service is one that should definitely be tried. I think you’d even be amazed – though I’m still wondering how the Wedding March is sung in Church of Christ weddings. By the way, I just learned that Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” – created for Shakespeare’s “Mid Summer Night’s Dream” – was first used for Queen Victoria’s oldest child’s wedding in 1858.

What’s Next?

Happened to drive by a beautiful building after the Baha’i Faith meeting a few weeks ago. It’s a church that had been on my list, though I didn’t quite know its location. When I started this journey, I was told that I should take in one of the mission churches around San Antonio. Then, I happen to run across it. Not two days later, I visited a new hairdresser and she mentioned she (by accident) went to the Spanish service instead of the English version at Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower. That settled it; even though I’d already attended St. Mary Cathedral in Austin earlier in the year, I’ve yet to take in an all-Spanish service. Let’s see if my four years of college Spanish will help me have anything to say next week. May be a photo-filled blog! photos!

San Antonio Baha’i Community

photo 1-23   Sunday #37 – San Antonio Baha’i Community, 735 W. Magnolia Ave.

This weekend, I went from the oldest synagogue in South Texas to a meeting for the youngest of all independent world religions – the Baha’i Faith. A religion that started in Iran less than 200 years ago now has six million followers and remains one of the fastest growing, “drawing membership from every religion, race, ethnic background, nationality and creed in the world,” according to Wikipedia.

Knowing absolutely nothing about the religion, I grabbed a juvenile book about the faith for a quick read. What I found fascinated me, so I anticipated this visit to a greater degree than most.

I first wanted to know about the famous people who cloaked themselves in the faith and found that jazz great “Dizzy” Gillespie, as well as other jazz musicians were Baha’i followers. Likewise, one of my favorite former All My Children soap actresses Eva La Rue and actress Carole Lombard were included in that list.

Though I try to stay away from discussing much about the beliefs of each faith, one important belief needs an explanation in order to understand the persecution the founders and those who have practiced Baha’i have endured. Baha’is believe in one God and that he sent many messengers like Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, and more. These divine messengers are believed to have brought truth and understanding that was right for a particular place and time in the world. The Baha’i have four central figures that have shaped the Baha’i Faith, but Baha’is don’t worship those early shapers of the faith like Baha’u’llah, but revere him as a great teacher.

Due to this Baha’i belief that all people are created equal, some Muslim religious leaders in former Persia became threatened and persecuted these leaders. Not only were several of the early proponents of the faith arrested, beaten, imprisoned and executed but many followers had to leave their homes to practice their faith. The Nazi’s officially banned the faith due to their teaching that all races are fundamentally equal, and when communism reigned in the Soviet Union, Baha’i were not permitted to practice their faith. Many of those who continued their practice were exiled to Siberia.

Preconceived Ideas about Baha’is

Hard to have preconceived ideas when you’ve never met anyone that was in the Baha’i Faith. However, from my research, I’d say I would expect to find the following:

  • Less structure than with other faiths — (bingo)
  • A fair amount of people from the Middle East (only one in attendance today. most were Anglos, but some Hispanics and one African American)

Devotional Begins

I walked into a room with a circle of chairs and someone immediately told me that the group had just finished their Study Circle that had been going since 9:00 a.m. and that these people would be staying for the devotional.

Several people introduced themselves and asked my name as I found a seat with the other 25 or 30 people, most dressed in jeans and shorts. All seemed to be middle-aged with a few older exceptions.

The Baha’i Faith has no clergy, sermons, liturgy or set order of worship. However, one person named Madeline appeared to be leading the discussion on today’s topic: “God is Everlasting.”

After she relayed the discussion topic, she pointed to a man with a guitar that had chosen several musical pieces that related to the topic. Then Madeline passed out slim and colorful folders that held some words to songs, all numbered to about 25. She asked others in the circle what they’d like to sing and the guitarists played the songs and we followed along with the words. Not much to these songs, most were about three sentences long, so it felt more like singing around a campfire on a fall evening, accompanied by a guitar in the background.

<<Kumbaya>>

After many songs, Madeline passed out a few prayer books to people and several read passages from the book or said a prayer on their own. Then Madeline passed out copies of passages from the Baha’i Faith, Old and New Testament, Qur’an, and even from a Hindu text. Afterward, she asked for those in the circle to share their thoughts on the texts that were read. That’s about all there is to a Bah’ai Faith devotional.

Circle dismissed

After dismissal, many went back to get food and eat with each other, but I used the time to visit with a couple of people, then headed to the book store room. One man running the bookstore shared that there were more than 100 works they considered sacred texts of the faith and then he asked me which I would like to purchase. When I said I wasn’t ready to delve into all the sacred texts this year, he said I should get started now since there were so many.  He handed me a small book by “Baha’u’llah titled “The Hidden Words.” and said that was his gift to me.

photo 3-21  Awwww……I was quite honored and will read it, but only the English part. I’m afraid I’m a bit rusty on my Arabic and Persian. Okay, well, I only ever learned to write my name in Persian, so rusty isn’t even close to accurate, but I am getting the hang of reading from right to left, thanks to a few trips to Shabbat services.

Post Meeting Thoughts

I think if someone just walked into a Baha’i devotional, they’d find the lack of structure to be a bit perplexing, but since I had read some information about the faith, I looked forward to learning more. In my reading, I found the beliefs of this faith to perhaps be what the world needs right now.

Cultural fragmentation has created emerging chaos around the world, so participating in a faith that embodies oneness is refreshing. Exclusive congregations that insist that you join their spiritual side by living by a certain set of rules before you are considered a full member often leads to this fragmentation. Ignoring religious diversity is no longer an option in a global environment and economy. Being a spiritual nomad has helped me to see that there are churches and groups that are being responsive to the longings of a changing world.

 

Temple Beth-El (Reform Judaism) – San Antonio

photo 2-21    Friday #36 – Temple Beth-El (Reform Judaism), 211 Belknap Place, San Antonio, TX

Why this Synagogue?

As the oldest synagogue in South Texas, this one remained a “must-go” on my list of churches, synagogues, temples and mosques. Founded in 1874, the congregation’s current temple, located at the corner of Belknap and W. Ashby, has a towering copper colored dome that beckons to passersby. Known, according to Wikipedia, as one of San Antonio’s more contemporary places of worship, Temple Beth-El is also liberal in support of the LGBT community.

At the start of this journey, I didn’t realize that Judaism has three different divisions: Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. Those in the faith told me that Orthodox would be considered the most traditional form of Jewish worship, while Reform would be the most liberal. I’ve since learned that another Reconstructionist division can be lumped in with those other three, and still other Jewish branches have developed off of those. I found a great description of all of these various divisions at the Jewish Outreach Institute website. So it looks like I can add a few new places to worship to my list: Congregation Beth Am (Reconstructionist), then maybe a Jewish Renewal and Secular Humanistic Judaism service, and of course there is always Congregation Rodfei Sholom, but I understand I can’t go into an Orthodox Synagogue unless someone invites me. Anyone know of any Orthodox Jews in San Antonio that want a tag-a-long?

Preconceived Ideas about Reform Judaism

My ideas, taken purely from the descriptive words “liberal, relaxed and contemporary” led me to believe that this service would be:

  • Much less conservative in dress – (that notion was shattered by seeing a few suits and only a young boy in shorts and one couple wearing jeans)
  • A much more relaxed service – (again, that notion was dispelled as I encountered a much more reverent approach than I’d experienced at the conservative service)
  • Filled with a spattering of those representing the LGBT communities, as well as more races — (m the LGBT community stood out, but I did see a few African Americans and Hispanics)

So my concept of Reform Judaism got turned on its head. Yet, what I experienced was nonetheless beautiful and inspirational.

Service Had Already Begun

Ooops….late again! We pulled into a covered walkway area, but two cars blocked the thoroughfare: an unattended cab and one van that had just pulled in to help someone in a wheelchair out. With nowhere to go, we waited patiently while time ticked by — not  a big deal; I’m used to walking into unfamiliar services late, but not sure what my companion thought.

After being directed down a long hallway into the Wulfe Sanctuary, we passed a table with extra yarmulkes (yes, yamika’s are optional here). A woman handed us each a thick blue Prayer Book. While everyone stood (I know you guys never thought I’d say this, but thank goodness people stand while they sing), we walked to the middle of the large sanctuary and took a seat on a pew. Oddly enough, this sanctuary offers something out of the norm with regard to seating – all the pews (except the one we sat upon) had chairs located within the pews.

I took a moment (since I was completely lost from the beginning) to take in the vastness of the Moorish architecture. Constructed in 1927 for a cost of just over $90,000 dollars, this splendid building is a sight to behold. On the main stage area, where the rabbi and cantor stood singing, I saw two lecterns connected by a long altar. Immediately to the back of them sat high-backed chairs for the service leadership. Then behind the chairs was an enormous marble façade with a sheer curtain in the middle behind which stood the Torah.

photo 1-24  This Torah area looked more like a trophy case. The Torah or Torahs (wasn’t quite sure why there were three) had gleaming silver tops and lots of shiny objects around them.

photo 2-24  Light from the evening’s sunset trickled into  three stained glassed windows on each side of the nave.

A huge dome capped the nave portion of the sanctuary, but due to size, I couldn’t snap a photo of it. As I glanced behind, I saw a small balcony that held the pipe organ above the congregants. Then, I noticed how the floor slanted from back to front, like other auditoriums. That made it much easier to see around the people in front of me. More churches should do that!

Okay….back to being lost

Once again, the prayer book was read from right to left, but this time my Hebrew navigation skills had improved as this service, almost entirely in Hebrew progressed. Since much of the service was sung or spoken in Hebrew, I found it less easy to follow than the Shabbat service I attended at Congregation Agudas Achim. I didn’t mind being lost, because in this Shabbat service, the musical voices from the rabbi and cantor were so beautiful that I could close my eyes and drink in the peacefulness and serenity.

That’s where I noted the differences between the Conservative and Reform services. In the first Jewish service I attended, the service was awash in joy and energy, with clapping and tapping to almost every song. Children quietly chattering and occasionally running down the aisles increased the noise level slightly. This Jewish Reform service held a completely different and unexpected atmosphere of reverence, respect and veneration.

So as congregants, we stood, we sat, we sang in Hebrew during this service, all the while marveling at the musical talent of the rabbi and cantor. Then at some point, someone pulled back the sheer curtain of the Ark to remove the Torah(s)? With a lot of clanging, the synagogue leaders pulled down these velvet-encased scrolls with shiny tops. With the way they were held, my first thought was that they might be special bagpipes. Then these bagpipe-looking scrolls were marched down both aisles of the sanctuary. As the service leaders progressed, congregants would touch their Prayer Books to the Torah then kiss the Prayer Book. While standing at the front of our pews, we all followed the direction of the procession with our bodies, turning 180 degrees during this portion of the service.

Once the procession returned to the altar area, the Torah’s velvet covering was removed along with its shiny top and other paraphernalia. Then the rabbi placed the scroll on the altar.

Then the Temple President gave a few announcements. Now here’s where it got interesting. The Cantor unrolled the Torah and, I believe, she began to sing from Deuteronomy written in Hebrew on the Torah. She actually sang the words in Hebrew, and I wish I had caught it on video, but I was too mesmerized to think.

After that prayers of healing were recited, followed by silence for personal prayers of healing. Afterward, the Rabbi, Cantor and President placed the Torah back in the Ark, closed the sheer curtains, then slid wood doors in front of the curtains to seal it off.

Then the rabbi gave her message that started off with a remembrance of 9-11, followed by the Mourner’s Kaddish and finally the dismissal. Shabbat service goers then proceeded to the Barshop auditorium for the Kiddush Reception where wine and Challah bread was served in observance of something or other. Still trying to figure that all out. I stopped to ask this rabbi what it all meant, knowing that it had nothing to do with Christianity and the sacraments found therein, but her explanation was a bit different than the previous rabbi’s from the Conservative service. So, that will take some more investigating on my part. But let me just say that wine sure tastes good and the Challah bread beats the Baptist chiclet crackers and Episcopal wafers hands down for taste.

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Post Service Thoughts

While this service didn’t turn out as expected, I truly enjoyed the serenity, peace and reverence felt while worshiping in this service and with these people. The building is certainly worth the trip to see. Plus, I think worshiping with those who use a different language and traditions so different from my own is always enlightening. What I came away with from both services is that the Jewish are truly a peace-loving people. As I think about it, some other cultures and people may feel the Jewish often separate themselves from others, but perhaps this is due in part to the persecution the Jews have endured throughout the ages. What are your thoughts in that regard?

What’s Next?

I must get in two services this weekend, because I’ll be out of town next weekend with little time to make a Sunday service. So tomorrow, I’m off to a Baha’I Faith meeting. It appears that neither the Jews nor the Baha’is accept donations from those outside of their memberships, so this week I’ve chosen to send my weekly offering to a distant family member who has great financial need right now.

 

Laurel Heights Seventh-day Adventist Church – San Antonio

photo 4-14      Saturday #35 – Laurel Heights Seventh-day Adventist Church, 703 W. Ashby Place, San Antonio, TX

Earlier in the week, I looked at a list of celebrities raised in the Seventh-day Adventist church or those currently part of the faith. Basketball great Magic Johnson popped out as did former Seventh-day Adventist Prince, who later converted to Jehovah’s Witness, as well as Little Richard as a former member. The only two current Seventh-day Adventist on the list, whose names I recognized were Sheila Jackson Lee, U.S. Representative from Houston and Fox News contributor and neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson. I suppose the faith appeals politically to the far left and the far right – my kind of place!

I didn’t know anything about the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) church, so I had to do a bit of Wiki research. Seems that it definitely is a Christian denomination that grew out of the prophetic “Millerite” movement, started by William Miller during the middle part of the 19th century.

Three things people note about Seventh-day Adventists: 1) they observe the Sabbath, 2) they have the same dietary observances of shunning pork, shellfish and other unclean meat mentioned in Leviticus and prefer a vegetarian diet, 3) Adventists also have a strong expectation that the end of the world is drawing near, though I didn’t get that sense in the service I attended today.

Seventh-day Adventist probably won’t appreciate another little tidbit I uncovered in my research, but I think readers will find it interesting. Around 1929, Victor Houteff formed a new sect, whose beliefs differed from mainline Adventists. The name of that sect was The Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. That group branched off into other groups that included the Students of the Seven Seals, more commonly known as the Branch Davidians. That group became widely known in 1993 when the FBI seized the Waco, Texas ranch and its religious leader David Koresh, who died along with 75 others in a fire during the assault. Even though a historical link between the cult-like group and the Seventh-day Adventists exists, the two have no present day similarity.

Seventh-day Adventists also have a long interest in education and as such have founded many colleges and hospitals throughout the world. Two universities from that long list, whose roots of which I were unaware are:

  • Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA
  • Walla Walla University, College Place, WA

Likewise, several hospitals of which I personally am aware cropped up on the list:

  • Avista Adventist Hospital – Louisville, CO
  • Central Texas Medical Center – San Marcos, TX
  • Adventist Medical Center – Portland, OR
  • Littleton and Parker Adventist Hospitals – Littleton and Parker, CO

The Adventist-based hospital list is quite long. So now my mind is off on a tangent: I wonder if they serve only vegetarian meals in those hospitals? Probably not, but makes me wonder.

I also learned that the Seventh-day Adventists typically don’t wear jewelry, makeup or use hair color.

Arrival

photo 5-5     Running late again, I pulled into the parking lot today and quickly made my way up the stairs to the front door. A young man met me, shook my hand and said, “Happy Sabbath,” then handed me a brochure. He did not pat me down for jewelry I had on my person, check my hair roots, or study the neutral shade of foundation and lipstick I chose to wear today.

Service Has Already Begun

I walked into the sanctuary late and stepped into an empty pew row while the congregation finished the hymn being accompanied by the sounds of an organ and piano. Thinking of all the celebrities noted earlier from my research, I immediately noted the surprising number of African Americans found among the whites and Hispanics in attendance. In fact, I’d say this was the most integrated church I’d attended to date and certainly one of the most well dressed groups, other than the Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church people. Only one thing missing: those representing the LGBT community. Seventh-day Adventists are less tolerant of the homosexual lifestyle it seems.

I immediately felt like I’d been transported to the 60s, back to the church I attended with my family in China, Texas.

The windows, although not stained glass, had a beautiful color pattern to them — like the Sunday School kids had taken crayons to the panes.

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The baptismal at the front of the church sat behind the wall and was highlighted by a mural depiction a peaceful river. (Yes, Seventh-day Adventists believe in baptism by complete immersion.)

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In fact, the whole service felt amazingly like what I remembered from First Baptist Church of China. After the opening hymn, came the greeting. Instead of “good morning,” everyone again shook hands and said, “Happy Sabbath.” Then we had another hymn and then the first of three offerings. The first was the standard offering and then came the most adorable event where the smallest of children grabbed small baskets and came around the pews to pick up people’s change and small denomination bills for gifts to the Pathfinder/Adventurer Clubs. Later as we left, came another offering to the youth missionary headed to Panama.

After the first offering, the children stayed at the front to hear the Children’s story, followed by another hymn where we all stood.

Then came the scripture reading and an invitation to prayer, which included those who wanted special prayers to come to the front and kneel in a circle with church leaders. The rest of us were instructed to kneel within our pews. I felt comfortable in my seat, so I stayed seated. (After 35 church services, I feel pretty comfortable doing whatever feels right to me at the time.)

Then the pastor, dressed in a three-piece beige suit came to the front of the pulpit, but walked around as he delivered his message about our willingness to let God lead the way. He stated that so often we say to God, “Lord, send me wherever you want me to go, but only to those places I might like to go.” He stressed that when we learn to let God lead our lives, our lives will be blessed beyond measure.

After a final hymn and benediction, we waited while the church leaders walked down the main aisle.

Post Service Thoughts

Knowing that this denomination had many beliefs so different from others, I expected to feel slightly uncomfortable worshipping with them on Saturday. Instead, I felt completely comfortable. The similarities to other faiths stuck me. The Seventh-Day Adventists hold many of the same observances as the Jews, yet have “end of the world” views similar to that found in the Jehovah Witness and Mormon church, while they hold the same type of service order and baptisms as do the Baptists. The more I see, the more I see how similar all religions remain. Now, if everyone could just see what I’m seeing, I think there’d be a lot more understanding and appreciation for our differences.

What’s Next?

Another Jewish service, Church of the Nazarene, Hindu, Baha’i faith? Still have so many services to attend. So where would you like for me to head next week? Would like to hit a Zoroastrian service, but the closest one is in Dallas!

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church – San Antonio, TX

photo 2-22Sunday #34 – St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 315 E. Pecan Street, San Antonio, TX

 Why this Church?

Earlier this month, Robin Williams, one of my favorite comedians died. Check out any of his biographies and you’ll discover that Robin had a Christian Science mother and an Episcopal father. From that union, his family chose to raise Robin as an Episcopalian. Robin often joked about his faith and what he liked about being an Episcopalian. The denomination must have embraced Robin Williams as one of their most famous members, because I found this listed in a Google search:

“Top 10 reasons to be an Episcopalian” – from a Robin Williams HBO special:

  1. No snake handling.
  2. You can believe in dinosaurs.
  3. Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them.
  4. You don’t have to check your brains at the door.
  5. Pew aerobics.
  6. Church year is color-coded.
  7. Free wine on Sunday.
  8. All of the pageantry – none of the guilt.
  9. You don’t have to know how to swim to get baptized.

And the Number One reason to be an Episcopalian:

  1. No matter what you believe, there’s bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.

Copyright © 2002 St. Augustine by-the-Sea

So, I thought in addition to reading all of Williams’ biographies, it would only be fitting to take in an Episcopal service in honor of the comedic genius. Fortunately, a book club member had previously mentioned St. Mark’s and that she drove downtown past several other Episcopal churches to get to this one — though she often questioned her thought process considering the extra gasoline. She did so due to  St. Mark’s charm, but not the youthful kind; it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and provides church goers and passersby a glimpse of Gothic Revival architecture wedged amongst the high rises that dwarf this religious gem.

photo 3-21

Arrival

St. Mark’s has three Sunday services: 7:45 a.m. (not gonna happen), 11:00 a.m. (tried to get there but cooking got in the way) and 4:00 p.m. (the Goldilocks hour – just right). I’d previously called about the services and was told to park in a lot across from the church because it was free for services. So, as I drove down Pecan Street, I looked for this lot. Missed it the first time, but eventually wound up at the right place. Good thing I arrived early, because I first checked the doors – all locked.

Okay, well maybe I didn’t check all of them. Not sure.

So, then I walked around the block, thinking I might be at the wrong set of doors – nothing on the back side; nothing on the opposite side. Then with sweat pouring down the back of my dress from the San Antonio heat, I came right back to where I started. Fortunately, a couple of people were walking in the opposite direction. I called out to ask if there was a service at 4:00. They said yes and pointed the way. So, I walked into the beautiful courtyard beyond the iron gates I’d originally gone in.

photo 2-21

I’d forgotten that this service was in the chapel. Too bad, because I’m sure I missed an amazing architectural wonder. However, the chapel also had a great ambiance — one that left you feeling as if you’d just stepped back in time.

photo 4-14

 

I enter into the room with a circle of chairs and about 15 people, along with the minister dressed in casual clothes and a stole around her neck.

Service Begins

I took the brochure handed to me as I entered and took a seat among the others dressed in pants and shorts to casual dresses. As expected for a downtown church, most of these people were elderly, and a few were young urbanites.

The room, lit primarily with candlelight had a warm feel, probably due to the overhead wood beams and painted blue in between those beams. At one end stood a curtain backdrop with a hanging cross that held the sacraments we’d share later in the service. In the middle of the table sat a bowl.

photo 5-5    photo 1-22

The minister began the service with a moment of silence then we proceeded through the brochure. The minister would say a few words and the congregants would recite the words written in italics. A song sung in A cappella began the service. Didn’t know this one, but hummed along.

Then came a lesson read from the book of Exodus, followed by a reading from the book of Psalms, then a second reading from Romans in the New Testament. Then another Gospel reading from Mathew.

After that, came my favorite part of the service – Reflection and Open Space. We were told to take a few minutes of silence to reflect on what was read while music played softly in the background. During that time, we could rise to light a candle in celebration or memory of something in our life. Or, come to the altar and write down something that we wanted to give over to God then place that paper into a large bowl of water, where the message would then quickly dissolve. Others, like myself just remained seated and prayed or reflected.

Then came the recitation of the Nicene Creed. This is quite a bit longer than what is recited in the Presbyterian Church, so I’m thinking there’s more than one Nicene Creed.

Pause for quick Google Search……. 

Okay, so the Nicene Creed is different from the Apostle’s Creed that the Presbyterian’s and others recite. According to Wikipedia, the Nicene Creed is the most universally accepted statement of the Christian faith. It’s longer than the Apostle’s Creed and was not written by the Apostles, but instead is representative of what the Apostle’s taught.

Ahhhh…don’t you love Google search? How did we ever live without it? 

Then, someone read the Prayers of the People, where different segments of people were mentioned interspersed with a smidgeon of a fraction of a second to pray after each mention. I could barely form a mental sentence, much less a prayer with that given amount of time.

After that came the Confession where we all repeated the words written in the handout. Then came the Absoultion given by the minister.

Pause to go back to Google…

Had to go look up that word. It means “the formal release from guilt, obligation or punishment, or an “ecclesiastical declaration of forgiveness of sins.” So, now you and I both know. Thanks be to Google!

Then came the Peace or the Passing of the Peace, where everyone shakes hands and says “Peace be with you,” or just “Peace.”

Then it was altar time, where we gathered in a circle. I forgot my handout, so I just listened, while others repeated the Eucharistic Prayer.

At this point, I started thinking about how different the  recitation cadence of each denomination is. When the Episcopalians pray or recite, it sounds similar to Catholic but very different from say the Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans or other denominations. It’s almost as if this cadence and/or lilt to the prayers are learned in seminary. It’s so prominent that I think someone could take me into any church blindfolded and I could tell you where I was just by how the prayers were recited. After this mental non sequitur, I snap back into the service as the sacraments are presented.

I remember the Episcopal sacraments from one other service I attended in the early 80s. To this day, I’ll never forget the minister handing me the wafer and placing it in my mouth. At that service, I quickly looked around to see if this was supposed to be symbolic bread or were we really supposed to eat it. It looked and tasted exactly like a thin slice of Styrofoam.

Fast foward 34 years and this time I watched as someone dipped the wafer into the wine (yes, it was real wine). BINGO! This wine would probably make the wafer taste less like Styrofoam, so that was the tactic I used as the cup of wine and wafer was passed around. Still tasted like Styrofoam — only this time a bit more like soggy Styrofoam.

I don’t mean to disparage the Episcopalians for their choice of bread, but honestly some churches offer homemade bread and even gluten free bread. Maybe it’s time for the Episcopalians to branch out in the sacrament department. Or maybe there’s some history to their choice. All you Episcopalians please jump in on the comments and let me know the reasoning.

After the post communion prayer and blessing, the minister dismissed the group.

Post Service Thoughts

I understand that music is played at one or more of the other services, so I would say that this wasn’t a typical Episcopal service, but many of the aspects are the same. I noted that no offering was taken, so this felt a little less like a church service and more like a service gathering.

The church definitely needs more signage to instruct newcomers where to go. If those two people hadn’t strolled by, I might have just got in my car and drove away, thinking that I’d written everything down incorrectly. The main sign out front didn’t mention the 4:00 service, which was a bit confusing.

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Overall, the message of the service comes from within the readings, so I wouldn’t go to an Episcopal service to be inspired. Instead, the inspiration happens internally as you connect to God through ritual and reverence.

What’s Next?

If I can clear my Saturday, I’m thinking I might check out the Seventh Day Adventists next week. Haven’t been to a service before. Don’t know any 7th Day Adventists, so this should be interesting. Always fun to go in completely denominationally blind.