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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

photo 1-21

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.

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14 comments on “St. Mark’s Episcopal Church – San Antonio, TX

  1. deacondorothee says:

    In the context that you used the word … alter… it is altar. Interesting viewpoint, thank you for sharing. Episcopal churches are notorious for poor signage, I hate the idea that someone would “give-up and go home” but I get it. Most services have a sermon, which would, hopefully, be the teaching moments of the service, sorry that one didn’t feature that.

    • mhn125 says:

      Thank you, Dorothee for catching that error. I’ll go in and change that. I write these posts very quickly, so even though writing is my profession, I still miss things.

      Yes, the first Episcopal service I went to years ago had a sermon, so I figured this service was just a bit different in focus.

  2. Nellwyn Beamon says:

    You mentioned the wafers. It depends on the church. Some use only wafers; some use gluten free wafers; some use gluten free bread and some use regular bread.

    • mhn125 says:

      Nellwyn, that’s good to know. With two Episcopal services, I’ve run into the wafers, so I wrongly assumed all used the same. Thanks for pointing that out.

  3. corsatx says:

    Some Episcopalian churches do use real bread at the Eucharist. The service you describe sounds like a contemplative service, offered as a different style of worship from the morning services.
    None of us should assume that all worship or the aspects of that worship are the same for all churches in a denomination or even for that particular church.

    • mhn125 says:

      Good point. I bet you that’s what it was. Certainly felt that way. Some chided me for not going to a bigger service and writing about it, but I’ve had that experience before. This was a bit different and a twist on the Episcopal worship experience.

  4. I grew weary of your misuse of “Episcopalian,” as an adjective, beginning with “Episcopalian father,” “Episcopalian service,” Episcopalian churches,” etc. and concluding with a repetition of “Episcopalian service.” “Episcopalian” is a noun; the adjective, and the one that you should have been using is “Episcopal.”

    • mhn125 says:

      Dear R. Whitney,

      Thank you for pointing out my mistake. I unfortunately make many where this journey is concerned. Let me go in and make those corrections now. Thank you for writing and bringing me up-to-speed on my mistake with the word.

      Marcia

  5. Jack Hale says:

    What a lovely project. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.
    The world is full of Episcopal jokes, most of them told by Episcopalians. Some say that Episcopalians are less concerned about what you believe than whether you do it right – hence our reliance on the prayer book and lectionary (prescribed weekly scripture readings) and, perhaps the sharpish comments from Mr. or Ms. Mitchell above. Episcopal services range from high (close to traditional Church of England practices) to homier, less formal, services. Robin Williams actually came pretty close in his analysis. I would invite you to widen your circle and visit us in Connecticut. The Church of the Good Shepherd was built by Elizabeth Colt in memory of her husband Sam. Sam’s revolvers made quite a name for themselves down your way. Our building, of which we are very proud, has carvings of gun parts worked into the ornamentation above one of the entrances. Makes an interesting contrast to the quest for love and peace within. Although Good Shepherd started out as a rich people’s church, we are now an inner city parish with a legacy congregation of older white, African-American, and West Indian parishioners as well as a 10 year old Spanish language ministry. You might like it.

    Jack Hale
    Senior Warden (That’s Episcopalian for chair of the board – we do like our fancy titles)

    • mhn125 says:

      Dear Jack,

      What an interesting history to your church. I enjoy learning more about the architecture, history and people of each church. Thank you for sharing that about your church. And yes, I’d LOVE to worship at your church if and when I’m ever in Connecticut. Sounds fascinating!

  6. I’ve been looking for Robin Williams’ list, and here it is! I’m a member of an Episcopal church (Good Shepherd in Wilmington, NC) primarily because I don’t have to check my brain at the door. We usually have home made, whole wheat bread at communion, using wafers only as a back up. I know we have work to do to make our service less confusing and more accessible, but we’re making progress! It’s helpful to read the perspective of a first time visitor. Thank you for writing about the church and for being open to new experiences. Your descriptions and photos are beautiful.

    • mhn125 says:

      JoAnne,

      Thank you, my dear. It’s so good to learn that you have found the blog helpful to your church. I take the criticism in stride and approve all comments that aren’t SPAM. I do that because it keeps the conversation open. But when I hear from others that the blog is helpful, it warms my heart. Thank you for writing! If I’m ever in North Carolina, yours is the church I’d like to attend.

  7. Virginia W. Nagel says:

    I am a retired Episcopal priest and a writer….so I have two bases for commenting. First, I noticed several not-so-clear sentences but I suppose you will pick up on that yourself.

    As someone else noted, some churches do use gluten-free or homemade bread. And yes, the Nicene Creed is longer than the Apostles’ Creed. It was written by a grand council of the church representatives at a town called Nicea (therefore Nicene) in answer to some heretical ideas that were floating around at the time (beck in the third or fourth century) and is supposed to be the authorative statement of what Christians believe.

    You are correct, most services do have music and also a sermon. The “sermon” at the service you attended was the reflection time. Usually the sermon interprets the three Scripture readings in terms of today’s life, culture and news.

    The Episcopal church does like to worship the Lord “in beauty and holiness” which is the reason for the vestments, dignity, and ritual. But we are real live nowadays people anyhow. Church styles range all the way from “almost the same as Roman Catholic” down to low-low church which can hardly be distinguished from the non-liturgical church services. The high-high churches even have confessionals (some of them) and holy water stoups near the doors. But the liturgy is pretty much the same, just the accessories (so to speak) and the style of the services differ.

    I am glad you got a chance to visit an Episcopal church.

    Incidentally the “Ten Reasons to be an Episcopalian” are not original with Robin Williams, they’ve been floating around the church for years and years. Some summarize them with the phrase “the thinking man’s (sic) church.

    One thing that often does not get included in discussions of the Episcopal church is that we were the first church to have separate services for deaf congregations (where the liturgy is adapted to their needs) and the first to ordain deaf priests (I am deaf, and am the 45th deaf person to be ordained priest in the Episcopal church…as well as the first deaf woman to be so ordained.) Food for thought….One of the 39 Articles (the governing points of the Episcopal Church) say that “the Gospel shall be preached and the sacraments administered in the language of the people” and so we have Episcopal churches that u7se various languages and cultural norms according to the needs of the people. (One summer, I, a deaf priest, served as chaplain to a camp hosting deaf-blind campers….that was something!)

    Thank you for what is, over-all, a really good blog. God bless!

    • mhn125 says:

      Dear Reverend Ginger,

      Would love your input on the “not so clear” sentences. I like making things as clear as possible, so any input you have, please pass along.

      Also, thank you so much for sharing more insight about the Episcopal church. As always, I’m overwhelmed by how readers can move the conversation forward and with such insight. I find what you added completely fascinating! Thank you so very much.

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