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.
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.
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.)
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.
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!