Summit Christian Center – (non-denominational) San Antonio

photo 2-25  Saturday #46– Summit Christian Center – Nondenominational, 2575 Marshall Road, San Antonio

Why this church?

Proximity! Only 4.8 miles from the house and it has a service on a Saturday evening – two of the most important things (at least to me). Since I’ve been to one or two non-denominational churches already, I’m not sure why I had this one on my list; I suppose it’s due to website intrigue. The singers on stage look excited on the site, as well as multi-cultural. Also, I lassoed my son into going with me, so he could give a young person’s perspective.

Arrival

Seems I never can get it right. Sometimes I forget my pencil in the car; other times I forget something to write upon. Tonight, I forgot my cell phone, so as Alex and I entered the doorway to the church, we did an about-face and headed back to the car. As a result, we were both warmly greeted twice!

As we walked to the sanctuary, we passed a nice coffee shop, then gift shop. photo 5-7

From that point we could already hear the bass of the 9-member band playing on stage. Even though the sanctuary can fit several thousand people, most of those at the Saturday evening service sat away from the balcony seats. All in all, I’d estimate about 300 to 350 people at tonight’s service. Those in attendance primarily dressed in jeans and pants, and were equally divided between whites, African Americans and Hispanics. I’m sure there were other nationalities in the service, but the sanctuary had already dimmed its lights for the bands’ production, which included a fog machine and spots of purple, green and blue gel lighting and some major amps.

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Service Begins

As the first song began, the crowd stood as the words appeared on two large overhead screens. No one around me sang along with the band – perhaps they were tone deaf. It’s always hard to follow along with just the words, if you don’t know the tune.

When the second song began, we remained standing. I wanted to poke Alex in the ribs and remind him that with all other non-denominational churches they typically stand for four songs before the audience is asked to sit. I decided against that because I figured Alex might bolt for the door if he had to stand that long. (Neither of us are big stand-in-place kind of people). However, after the second song, a bouncy woman (I believe this was the pastor’s wife), came to the stage and led us in a prayer. To me, it sounded more like a political rally prayer, but then again, everyone prays as they are led. From there, the service had a few announcements and then we were asked to greet those around us. I shook hands with a few people, but it was more of a quick “Glad you are here kind of greeting.”

Then to my surprise (was expecting at least two more songs by the band, according to my experiences at mega churches), the pastor popped on stage, dressed in a long sleeved shirt with the tail out, jeans and possibly even boots. This seems to be the clothing choice of many non-denominational pastors – at least for a Saturday evening service.

The Message

Pastor Rick Godwin spoke on “The Benefits of Having a Spirit of Gratitude.” He immediately sailed right into his message, peppering scripture with a multitude of vignettes and stories. From the pulpit, he read his notes as he went. While I like a pastor who can weave a story into a message to make a point, I felt like this message was all story and scripture and no space or breathers. I likened it to having only one note to play and no space around the note. After a while, the stories that made me giggle and smile began to wear on me. However the delivery was simply a matter of style and one that I wasn’t used to.

I did find his mannerism to be a bit like a young Ronald Reagan and that was endearing. The points of the message about being grateful in all things that you do and that you are unique, so “be a voice, not an echo,” struck a chord with me. Also liked his wording when he said, “We so often count our blessings with our fingers and our miseries with a calculator.”

After the message, the pastor led us in prayer and then had kind of a silent (no peeking) in-your-seat altar call where those who wanted to accept Jesus as their Savior could do so somewhat privately. Then the pastor cued a video about a couple that had made Summit Christian Center their church home, when it was called something else before Summit. It was a heartwarming story and I think if someone in the audience were looking for a church home, this may have had some impact.

After the video, guests were told to sit back and not participate in the offering, and that it was time to give members a chance to give of their tithes and offerings. Like most mega churches, this one used buckets to pick up the checks, cash and coins.

Finally, the pastor had everyone hold out their hands and he gave the parting blessing and we were dismissed.

Post Thoughts

I didn’t see this as we walked in, but can you believe it, this church has a two-story full-sized carousel!

photo 4-16   I’m talking a major carousel here. Who has a carousel in their church? It certainly made me smile, almost as much as that cross made out of used telephone cord at the at Passion City Church in Atlanta. Although I couldn’t find anything about this carousel on the church website, I immediately understood its value. I used to tell neighbors holding garage sales: You have to have one item that is the big draw. You should never sell it until close to the end of the sale because that one item will draw people in for its novelty. A carousel in church – definitely a novelty!

In the end, Alex had many of the same feelings as I did. Wasn’t his kind of church. He really didn’t like the tele-evangelist style of preaching and the over-the-top production from the band, even though he did enjoy the music. In the end, he said he felt like many of those in his generation (under 25) aren’t looking for the highly polished productions but instead, a genuine, heart-felt experience in which they can participate. I’m not sure what a church like that would look like, but I’ll keep my eyes open for him.

What’s Next?

Theatre church? Who knows? Depends on how late I sleep in as to whether I can make it tomorrow. If not, I may hit another service at 6 pm.h

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Harvest Bible Chapel – (a start-up church) – San Antonio

photo 1-23  Sunday #45– Harvest Bible Chapel – a start-up church – San Antonio

Why this church?

I read about this start-up church in the LOCAL newspaper that comes to the house each month. I’d wanted to visit a start-up church to witness the difference between the people who are on ground floor-faith compared to those who are involved in well-established churches. This one launched October 5 at Vineyard Elementary.

Pastor Josh de Koning had been with a Harvest Church in Austin and the story goes that he and his brother road their bicycles from Austin to San Antonio to mark the event of the church opening.

Arrival

I roped my son into going with me on this visit because I wanted to get his impression about the service. We drove into the school lot and were immediately stopped by a man in an SUV who had a question about what time the service started. We told him that we were new so didn’t know anything. He said he had been at last week’s service and really liked the pastor’s message, so he came back again. That was encouraging, so we turned to enter the school.

Start-up churches have unique challenges and one of those is in the area of signage. When meeting in rented space, church leaders and volunteers must spend hours retro-fitting the space and then hours tearing it down.
photo 2-24 As I walked down the school hallway, I noted lots of church related messaging hanging over what surely was school-related information. It certainly was more than a simple: “Church is through this door” sign.
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We walk through two large doors that lead to the cafetorium – at least that’s what they were called in Colorado, so I assume they are the same in Texas – a room that functions as part cafeteria and part auditorium. With the backdrop in black, a five-member band asked us all to rise to our feet for the first song. I didn’t tell Alex about that part, where I suspected that we’d be on our feet for the first four songs.

Service Begins

After the first song, (surprise, surprise), we got to sit down for the announcements, which were followed by a viewing of a video on the two large overhead screens. Then we stood for the second song and then the ushers came forward for the offering.

The offering was very similar to the one taken by the Church of Christ, Scientist in San Antonio, where a black velvet bag is passed around. I like these little devices because you can drop your bills, change or check in and no one on the same pew or chair row can see what you donated. More churches should do that. I know the question that you’d like to ask? Well, why not just donate online and then no one sees anything? Answer: I’m old fashioned, so I still like the feel of letting go of the money versus donating digital ones and zeros.

While the velvet pocket was passed, I looked around the cafetorium/church and saw people in jeans, suits, boots and dresses – anything goes in this church. Then we had a reading from the fourth chapter of Psalms and a prayer. Then a few people raised their hands in praise and others swayed to and fro to the music as we sang along for the fourth song while standing.
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The Message

The pastor, clad in jeans and a sport coat read from Philippians 3:1-11 and discussed two reasons for pressing on and knowing Christ and then six ways to do that.

We should press on because (1) you have arrived and (2) Christ made you His own.

The pastor drove his point home by saying there’s a reason that a car’s windshield is so much larger than its rearview mirror. If we are always looking behind us, then we’ll surely run into problems and not see what’s coming. Then he gave his six ways to press on:

1. Forget your past and push forward
2. Keep your eyes on the apostolic example
3. Think like a citizen
4. Anticipate the Savior
5. Glory in what is truly glorious
6. Love and be loved

After the message, we were told that this would be the first time that the church had administered communion. I was quite anxious to see how they’d handle that, but I must say that this church did something that I’d not seen before. While the silver trays filled with cups of wine (substitute grape juice for this church), those wine cups sat on another cup of that held a small bit of cracker. When you picked up your wine turned grape juice, you picked up the cracker cup at the same time. That sped things along considerably. Felt like an expedient way to serve communion, if you ask me.

Then we all stood for another song and finally read Ephesians 3:17-19 before being dismissed.

Post Thoughts

If you want a biblical message versus a feel good message, then this is one church you may want to check out. I know many of my friends prefer this type of message and for them, I think they’d feel right at home. All churches were start-up churches at one time, but it got me to wondering how many of those are going on in one city from one Sunday to the next. Not sure if there’s a way to check that out.

What’s Next?

So little time left before the end of the year. I know I want to take in a church in a theatre, so that may be the next one.

 

Center for Spiritual Living (Church of Religious Science) – San Antonio

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#44 Sunday – Center for Spiritual Living, 3740 Colony Drive, Suite LL 100, San Antonio, TX

Why this Church?

Although I’d planned to hit two services this weekend and had those all lined out, that wasn’t whatt the Universe had planned. I wound up going to Austin and crewing for a bike race; Sunday became the only weekend day I had available to attend church. I awoke early and started my day by reading from A Course in Miracles. Landed on the section about atonement. Wasn’t quite sure the exact definition of the word “atonement,” so I looked that up. The best way to remember the definition is to break the word down to “at one ment.” I’m not sure why the text spoke to me in the way it did, but I found myself longing for a Mile Hi Church service in Lakewood, CO. Wanting to connect at a deeper level today, I decided to forego my plans for the church I had planned and seek out a Church of Religious Science service. I knew going in that it would not compare in any way to the 10,000+ member services that exist in Colorado at Mile Hi Church, but for some reason I needed what I knew I’d hear there.

Arrival

This church meets in an office building along IH-10 in San Antonio, so I knew going in that it would be a small, intimate service. I parked right outside the glass door entrance to the building — no need for special visitor parking signs here.

When I walked through the doors, I met Daniel. He asked if it was my first time at the church and what brought me there today. I explained that I’d attend Mile Hi in Denver and was familiar with the teachings of Church of Religious Science. He then gave me a packet of information and showed me where the Ladies room was located. It seemed important that everyone let me know where the restrooms were; didn’t need them, but I learned  where they are located!

I walked into the make-shift sanctuary and found a single aisle that led to the front with an audience section of  cushioned chairs on either side of that main aisle. As I sat down, Miles turned around and asked if I was new to the church. He said he was a practitioner at the church. When he learned I used to go to Mile Hi, he said I should meet Millie in the row above his, because she, too, had been a member in Colorado. I made a mental note to chat at the end of the service.

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Service Begins

A guest guitarist and pianist duo played the first song to set the stage for the service. Then Millie Forsberg came to the podium to give the invocation and meditation. To this day, I love the invocation in the Church of Religious Science. I can’t repeat it word for word, but it basically says that the church welcomes all faiths, ages, religions and cultures. In fact, I think the Church of Religious Science is the most inclusive church around, but it doesn’t overtly promote that; everybody just knows it.

When Millie began the meditation, I felt like I’d been transported back to Mile Hi; I could feel the pace and cadence in Millie’s voice that I’d often heard in Reverend Cynthia’s voice at Mile Hi.  That same feeling of peacefulness washed over me and I began to feel right at home. Then Millie gave the inspirational reading — first from “This Life is Joy” — a book by Senior Minister at Mile Hi Dr. Roger Teel. Odd, I was being hit with Mile Hi references all morning long and it somehow filled the void that had been felt earlier in the morning.

Then we stood for the Declaration of Principle with the words appearing on the overhead screen. After that, we had a Song of Affirmation. I’m not sure who this duo was but that one song absolutely depicted the intricate weave of oneness, unity or whatever you call it.

Today’s Message

Reverend Beth Jewett gave today’s message on “Navigating Transformation.” It’s a series focus on 28 Days of Transformation that is studying the process of transformation. I loved the fictional letter that the reverend started with — a letter from a college student to her parents. A version of this letter can be found online and it’s worth a read for the smile and giggles. As Rev. Jewett talked about how to navigate transformation, she also related the story of Steve Nash, who went from being completely entrenched in everything Phoenix as he played several years for the Phoenix Suns. He thought of himself as a Phoenix Sun, but when he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, he had great difficulty with the transformation in becoming and thinking of himself as a Maverick. She said that our own spiritual transformations is often much like that. Then the reverend shared ways to make that transformation less difficult and pulled quotes from the New Testament and the word’s of Paul who shared that we must take on the mind of Christ.

After the message came the offering. I also love this part of the Church of Religious Science services. We hold our tithe in our hands and affirm our own abundance and our sharing that good with all who pass this way. Then a man passed the wooden bowl to the 30-35 people in attendance. Following that, we jointly stated our gratitude for the offering.

Finally, we had the benediction and closing music where we all held hands and sang together.

Post Service Thoughts

I’d purposefully put off going to this church, because I felt that I would be disappointed in the contrast from a 10,000 member church that books the world’s top speakers and musicians to a small church getting a new consciousness foothold into the community. In the end, I’m glad I waited, because today seemed like the day I was just supposed to be there. I certainly felt that “oneness” I longed to feel this morning.

What’s Next?

I’m reluctant to share what’s next, because I make plans and they keep getting changed. So, I’ll just say that wherever I end up next week will be the right place, as it always seems to be. And so it is!

 

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower – (Catholic Spanish Mass)

photo-30   Sunday #43 – Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower, 1715 N. Zarzamora, San Antonio

Why this church?

While visiting the Baha’i Community in San Antonio, I ran across this Beaux-Arts architectural marvel sitting on San Antonio’s west side. Its large dome beckoned from the main street upon which I drove, so I turned off Culebra Road to see what lie beneath the dome. To my surprise, it was a church that I had on my list of ones to visit. It’s an enormous cathedral; you quickly learn how big when you find that it has two addresses online: 1715 N. Zarzamora and 906 W. Kentucky Street.

This historic Roman Catholic church, built in 1931 is also called Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Thérèse. In the late 1920s, the Discalced Carmelite Friars began working in the surrounding parish community and the building was erected sometime during the Great Depression.

Named for French-born saint, also known as Little Flower, St. Thérèse is famous for bestowing favors on people who honor her memory. St. Thérèse has a symbol of the rose, so the cathedral uses roses in various forms throughout the building, which is currently being reconstructed a little at a time.

Celeste A. – a Yelp review had me chuckling when I read her post about a visit to the church: “It also has a pretty kick butt religious gift shop with the usual amount of kitschy figurine and holy water fonts in abundance.”

The cathedral has many intricate hand-carved Stations of the Cross, as well as

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what appeared to me as a shrine area to St. Thérèse.

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Side note: It always surprises me when I see Jesus depicted as hanging on the cross in Catholic churches. Most protestant churches only use the stand-alone cross and rarely, if ever, have Jesus hanging upon it. Makes me wonder where this divide in depictions of religious symbols happened.

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<<Somebody jump in on the comments and let me know, if you have the answer.>>

Arrival

With five minutes to spare, I found a parking lot across from the church and pulled in as others were scrambling to the entrance as the church bells wafted across the neighborhood.

As I entered the cathedral, my eyes focused on the massive altar area with a huge carving of Jesus, angels and a host of celestial beings awash in pastel colors. I quickly took a seat a few wooden pews back from the front.

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I quickly noted that most of the Hispanics in attendance wore jeans and t-shirts. Children were in abundance and I continued to hear them throughout the service, so this Catholic Mass was a bit more lively than most Catholic churches that I’ve attended.

Service Begins

As the service began, one altar boy carried the “Jesus on a Cross” symbol and two other altar boys marched to the side of him with candles; the Rev. Luis Gerardo Belmonte-Luna proceeded behind.

Once the procession came down the side aisle, the quartet of people moved to the main altar area. The priest kissed the altar as the boys went out a door to the side. Then one came back with what appeared to be a lantern. I quickly learned that the priest needed that for lighting the incense. He began waving the lantern in front of and around the altar. I knew when I returned home that I would have to look up this ritual to better understand its symbolism. I didn’t realize that the use of incense in worship predates Christianity and that there’s a biblical instruction to burn incense (Exodus 30:7; 40:27).

After the priest welcomed everyone in Spanish (remember the whole service was in Spanish), he began to chant, then we sang a song before being seated. Two women then came to the large pulpit that loomed to my left. The first read the Bible before finishing with the words: Esta es la palabra de Dios.

Then an organ played and a disembodied male voice began singing. Don’t know why these disembodied voices bug me so. Guess I’m accustomed to seeing people sing from the front of the church instead of hearing it from the back.

Then the next woman climbed the stairs to stand atop the large pulpit and read other passages from the Bible en Español.

Then after the next song, the altar boys brought two candles out and faced the altar. The priest, holding a red religious text (I can only assume this was the Bible) above his face, walked with the altar boys down the side of the cathedral and back up to the pulpit. He then read a passage from the Bible he carried.

The Message

As the priest began his message, he first asked the audience a question about singing and whether we sung in church. A few people reluctantly raised their hands and he smiled. Then he asked a few more questions and left the pulpit. Wearing a microphone clipped just below his chin, the priest began walking up and down the main aisle while he spoke – no notes, no reference slides; just from his heart.

Up and down the aisle he paced, and continued on like that for a long time – longer than any previous Catholic sermon I’d heard. I hung on every word he said, hoping that the words I understood would coalesce in my mind to form exactly what he spoke about. I took from what little I could understand that he was gently chiding those who don’t sing aloud in church, but just mouth the words. He had the church laughing at numerous spots along the way. I found the atmosphere refreshing, because I’d never heard anyone laugh in a Catholic Mass before.

At one point, the pastor went into the history of the Cathedral and said the word Papa several times before I realized that the word “Papa” meant the “Pope.”

<<duh – one reference and I should have figured that one out!>>

The Priest continued up and down the aisle gently waving his hands to make his points about those who say they can’t sing in church, yet blast the music from their cars and sing to the top of their lungs. Upon arriving in church, they are suddenly mute and at a musical deficit. It didn’t take long to realize that this man is a great storyteller.

Even though I didn’t understand every word, the priest spoke slow and deliberately enough for me to understand most of the words and get a general sense of what he was saying. Toward the end of his gentle and wonderful delivery the priest started talking about “dinero.” I had to call the church this morning to learn what he said because I didn’t catch it all. His final story went something like this:

One day the $100 bill died and went to Heaven. At the door of Heaven’s gates, the $100 bill asked to come in, but he was turned away. But he tried to convince St. Peter that he had done good work, had helped many people and that his power had been used in many ways. St. Peter still said no. Then the $50 bill died and went to Heaven and he begged for entry but was turned away. Again, this bill tried and tried to explain how important he was to the people and had helped so many during his lifetime. Then the $1 bill arrived and was let right in. The $50 and $100 bills were aghast that something as lowly as a $1 bill would be allowed passage and not them, so they asked why. St. Peter said, “Because the $1 bill was at Mass every Sunday. I looked for you, but you never came.” As the crowd broke out in laughter, the priest who had slyly made his point quickly turned on his heel and headed up to the altar for more serious matters – Communion.

Before the communion, several men came to the front holding chrome baskets that looked like long-handled French-frying baskets you’d find at McDonalds. These were the their donation plates.

<<I must say, while a bit odd looking, these baskets were quite functional. The men could reach down the aisles without walking too far into the aisles or making people pass the plate.>>

After that, a few kids came to the front toting a large white wicker basket shaped like a trunk.

<<I immediately thought: WOW, they sure collected a lot of money, if they have to bring it up in a trunk.>>

But instead, the kids pulled out small glass bottles of what appeared to be oils of some kind and handed them to the priest.

Then, the altar boys appeared from a back room and brought the incense out again, which the priest then waved over the wine and bread and then all around the altar. From my kneeling position, I noted that one of the kneeling altar boys rang a bell every time the priest presented the bread and wine. After serving one of the fastest communions I’ve seen at a Catholic Mass, we all stood to “Pass the Peace.” I wasn’t sure what to say in Spanish, but I somehow muddled through.

Then the priest chanted again, before a woman came to another lectern located closer to me and read a few announcements. Then, the altar boys brought out the cross and candles, faced the altar and promptly walked with the priest back down the aisle as the service ended.

Post Thoughts

If I were Catholic, this would be my priest! Unlike so many mono tonal Catholic sermons delivered in English from Catholic pulpits, this Spanish one was absolutely captivating and I could kick myself for not spending even more time practicing my Spanish. I understood enough to enjoy and participate, so for that, I’m thankful.

What’s Next?

I’ll be doubling up and doing two services next week – one at 5:00 pm Saturday and another new church I heard about nearby at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning. Would like to go to the Sikh service, but I have to wear a long dress or tunic and pants and I don’t have either of those. I’ll see what I can work out between now and the end of the year.

First Church of the Nazarene

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Sunday #42 – San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene, 10715 West Ave., San Antonio, TX

Why this church?

A month ago I traveled down West Avenue and ran across this church. Not recognizing the name, I came home to do a little research. Back in front of Wikipedia, I learned that Church of the Nazarene morphed to be what it is today. Its origin began in Pilot Point, Texas (there’s another town that I didn’t know existed), but became a combination of 15 Holiness denominations. (Not sure what the Holiness denominations are.)

I signed online this morning to learn that I could just stay home and hear the church service. I started to cop out and just do the virtual thing, but I knew the experience would not be relayed nearly as well, if I didn’t go. And of course, you wouldn’t see any photos or video, making my report a big yawn. Couldn’t do that to the Nazarene’s, so off I went.

Notable Nazarene’s and Former Nazarene’s

Not knowing any Nazarene’s, it’s always enlightening to learn about the notable ones and the ones who are former Nazarene’s. Some of these surprised me:

  • American psychologist Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family
  • Four-time governor of Louisiana Edwin Edwards – before going into politics, Edwards was a Nazarene preacher. He later converted to Catholicism
  • Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks – attended a Nazarene church when he lived with his aunt
  • American politician and two-time presidential candidate Gary Hart – raised as a Nazarene and graduated from Southern Nazarene University
  • American artist Thomas Kinkade was a member of the Church of the Nazarene
  • Grammy award-winning singer/song writer John Mellencamp – raised as a Nazarene
  • Actress Debbie Reynolds – raised in the Church of the Nazarene and attended 3x a week for sixteen years

Arrival

photo 4-15    The unassuming building along West Avenue is nothing special from the outside, but the grounds on which this church is built is spectacular. The parking lot and surrounding areas are peppered with beautiful, old oak trees that highlighted a beautiful blue sky on an autumn day.

I headed through the doors and took the flyer handed to me. From there I walked right into the sanctuary and took one of the many plush, green cushioned chairs in the middle of the room. Looking around, I saw one large projection screen to my left and lots of small chandeliers hanging around the room.

As the people filed in, I noted the most unique thing about this church – its make up of people. I saw blacks, whites, Hispanics, a Middle Eastern family, very young children, disabled people and many elderly people – all dressed in a potpourri of jeans, suits, dresses, pants and t-shirts. The cars in the parking lot mirrored this diversity; I saw large Mercedes parked next to the most modest small cars. This mish-mash of people greeted each other warmly and a lively joie de vivre emanated from every corner and conversation.

The only interaction I had with anyone was when I leaned over to a couple to ask if I had the bulletin for today, because what I’d been given looked like only announcements. The young man popped up and said, “Let me get you one from the back.” Later, a young woman asked if anyone was sitting next to me, because her children had all decided to come into the service instead of going to the children’s church in back.

Service Begins

photo 1-23    As the 10-member band took the stage, the congregation stood for two songs. Then came the announcements about an upcoming Jubilee and other events and missions in which the church was involved. At that moment, I saw how comfortable the announcer was in sharing this information and it made me realize how at ease everyone was in the service.

After the announcements came the tithes and offerings. Deacons passed the plates around while a trumpet played in the background.

Then we all stood for the third, fourth….and FIFTH song. I didn’t do a long run this morning, so it didn’t bother me as much as all the standing usually does. However, if I had one suggestion for improvement, I’d nix some of the five songs and spend a little time with a heart-felt greeting like the Northside Church of Christ does with their very unique “Two-minute Warming.” This Nazarene church has such a wonderful spirit about it and I could see that everyone enjoyed greeting one another without prompting, but a special call for the congregation to meet and greet visitors might help newbies connect with more people from this wonderful community. They certainly have something special to share with newcomers and I hate to see it eclipsed by yet another song.

The Message

After a quick prayer, the pastor launched into the day’s message – all part of his current series: “Home Run Life.” Not sure what the series is really about, but the message I took from this sermon would be more along the title: “Who are you?”

From Genesis 25, Pastor Rice regaled us with the story of Isaac’s twin sons Jacob and Essau. Essau was born first, giving him the birthright. Jacob was born holding onto his brother’s heel. (I learned today that the name Jacob means, “heel grabber.”) As he told the story of how Jacob deceived his father and brother to gain the birthright and then had the tables turned on him later when he was fooled by his father-in-law. After working for seven years for the man, he could gain the hand of his daughter Rachael. However, the father-in-law switched the brides and Jacob (now called Essau) married the wrong sister.

<<Proof that karma sucks and dysfunctional families aren’t anything new.>>

I loved how this pastor used the names of people he knew in the congregation to tell the story and the technique he used to increase audience understanding while retelling the biblical story.

Likewise, I think the rest of his message was even more powerful. I’d read that Nazarene’s were conservative in their views of sexuality, but today, I heard this pastor say that churches these days have a real problem with regard to sexuality. “We are so busy talking about the sins of others and yet we lie about who we are and what we do,” he said. This statement made me believe that this church may not condone various aspects of sexuality in debate today, however they also would not be likely to “cast the first stone.” That’s a amazingly refreshing look at this current debate and I, for one, applaud the statement.

Finally, the pastor delivered one of the most profound statements around this week’s election. He said he had just voted early and encouraged everyone to vote in Tuesday’s election. However, he said God didn’t give the commission to congress or our government to better the world. He said, “God gave you and I that commission.” I took that to mean that he and this church believes that feeding the homeless, caring for each other and giving more of what we have, to care for those in need is OUR responsibility, not the job of congress.

He went on to say that many who are not Christians hear what we are saying, but see what we are doing, and it doesn’t add up. He finally said, “These people look at what we say versus what we do and realize that you and I have no relevance in their life.”

<<WHOAAAA…..that’s a powerful and sobering statement for all to read.>>

After the sermon, the sacraments (comprised of grape juice and round, stale wafers) were passed out. I appreciated that the pastor instructed the congregation to hold the elements in our hands, until we all partook together. Each church has a different protocol and I always am thankful for a little instruction in that regard.

Finally, we stood for the sixth and last song of the service and then were dismissed.

Post Thoughts

My expectations for the service were quite different than my experience. While the music wasn’t of the high end production quality that many churches have, enthusiasm for what’s sung will often trump the production, in my opinion. By far, the message was one of the best of the past year. All those things that people avoid going to church for – not knowing the right thing to wear, not wanting to be “sold” on anything, not comfortable with being singled out as a visitor, or not being comfortable with unfamiliar customs, didn’t happen in this church. Therefore, I’d consider this church one of those ones that you can go in as a visitor and just enjoy without worries about what to do and what not to do.

What’s Next?

I’ll be at a race next Sunday, so I’ve saved the mission church for next week. Still have to get in that Spanish Mission church and Jewish Orthodox service. What have I left out? Do you see any churches I haven’t covered? Let me know.