Sunday #39 – Covenant Baptist Church, (a Contemplative Christian Community) 19204 RM 2252, Garden Ridge, TX
Why this church?
I’d planned to go to one of San Antonio’s many mission churches today, but I wanted to go with a friend from Monterrey, Mexico; she was out of town this weekend, so we postponed.
Instead, I chose to go to a church recommended by my good friend David Russell from Amarillo, Texas, who when he first heard of my journey to 50 churches, strongly recommended this one. While I’d already attended Trinity Baptist Church earlier in the journey, the subtitle of this church as a “contemplative Christian” church piqued my interest. I had no idea what that meant or what to expect. So I’ll just jump right into the service.
I do believe every single person at this church came up to introduce him or herself to me. I forgot to count how many people were in attendance, but my guess was about 30-35. This congregation is a “come as you are” bunch wearing everything from jeans and flip fops to dresses.
As I walked into the meeting room, it immediately took me back to the Quaker service I attended – lots of earthiness with stone and rough wood. In fact, the idyllic setting reminded me of something you might find in Colorado. A simple wooden cross hung over the fireplace filled with small flickering candles.
To signal the start of the service, a man stood next to the electronic keyboard and rung a hand bell several times. Then someone came to a single music stand and stood in front of a microphone for the Welcome and then the Call to Worship. We stood for the first hymn from an actual hymnal – not some words off a projection screen! The prayer of confession followed the hymn, then we sat for the second hymn.
After a call to praise, where the congregation repeated a few words of thanksgiving, we sang another hymn. Then I experienced something new: Children’s Time on the Blanket. This consisted of someone coming to the front, taking a blanket from a quilt rack and unfolding it near the front for the kids to sit on for their story time. These kids were precious, bringing up their offerings to help a young orphaned boy and then later to have their own mini-communion and story time.
Once the kids had departed for their service in back, a single guitar player played the Song of Petition, followed by the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.
As I sat in the purple molded chair listening to Kyndall, the young female pastor, recite the scripture reading from Philippians 2:1-15, I marveled at the way the church had mixed many of the East traditions with the West – like silent meditations and an onsite labyrinth with traditional hymns.
The sermon consisted of something you might find in a silent Quaker church where scripture is read several times and the congregation participates by closing their eyes and allowing the words to speak personally to them, then writing down the word or phrase that touches them. I think this is where the “contemplation” word originates because instead of an hour of religious entertainment, this church encourages participation with the text.
Following that, we had one more hymn to sing and then had communion that consisted of us lining up to receive the body and blood of Christ in the form of real, gluten-free bread dipped in grape juice.
Then the offering followed with wooden plates passed from person to person.
Finally, the pastor came to the front with a small book and called for prayers and blessings. As different people shared concerns and need for prayer, the pastor faithfully wrote each in her book. Somehow, I just got the feeling of the deliberate nature of this act – that the pastor would be lifting these concerns to God throughout the week. Then we were asked to take one of the concerns mentioned that spoke especially to us and pray for them or the situation.
Post Meeting Thoughts
Ever once in a while, I come across one of these rare church gems – a place where everyone is glad to be and delighted that someone new has arrived – a place where the ritual doesn’t get in the way of the overall message – a place where peacefulness overrides entertainment. This is one of those places.
After church, I walked down the five-minute wooded path to the labyrinth the church had built on their vast property. I understand that several years ago, the Sunday School children placed all the rocks at the labyrinth by hand. It’s an eleven-circuit labyrinth that is used as a place of contemplative prayer and is open to everyone in the community. It truly is a special place.
Now back to the regularly scheduled program. Hopefully next week, I’ll be at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower and completely lost at one of the Spanish only services.