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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.