First Church of the Nazarene

photo 3-20

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.

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13 comments on “First Church of the Nazarene

  1. Paul says:

    I attend that church for the same reasons you mentioned, and the outreach programs e.g. West Ave. Compasionate. If you are looking for a Spainish Service Pastor Jesus has one that follows the one you attened, it is great. Thanks for attending

  2. Chris says:

    (I am not here as a rep of SAFNaz at all)
    Thanks for visiting us! I was actually that young man in front of you. I serve at SAFNaz as a locally licensed minister with the Youth Ministry and I am pleased we had you with us. We actually used to do a big greeting session, but we’ve been changing our announcements timing/format lately and I think that’s just been lost in there. Reading this is helpful, it shows us what we are doing well and what could use work. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Ted & Angela Ferrara says:

    My wife and I too attend this church and appreciate your review. My wife and I are also responsible for maintaining and setting up the sacraments (ie “stale wafers”). Feedback of any type is very important and welcome, new wafers are being ordered. We take pride in welcoming first time visitors and apparently that didn’t happen yesterday. Typically, once a month, we have a “Visitors Lunch” after the service to welcome anyone new in the past month. Of course, that was last weekend, so you just missed it for this month. I know after this year is over, you’ll have 52 churches to choose from. While you don’t have to make a commitment to ours, we’d love to have you back again.

    • mhn125 says:

      Ted, thank you for commenting. Your remarks made me smile.

      In truth, I’m just not a big fan of wavers for communion. They all taste stale to me — something akin to styrofoam. I realize this is a tradition for many churches. After you taste the Challah bread served in a synagogue or the homemade bread that is served at some smaller churches, you get spoiled. I always think back to what Jesus may have shared and I don’t think wafers or gluten-free bread was probably high on the menu. But these choices do serve a purpose. I should write about all the different experiences around communion some day. That would be interesting.

      Also, thank you for the clarification around visitors. That adds context to the one-off experience in your church. I certainly found it comfortable, enjoyable and a delight. I’m sure I will be back to visit another time at some point in the future.

      • Ted & Angela Ferrara says:

        So, my wife and I discussed your blog, my response, and your response. We’ve been asked recently to be on the “greeter” team which we declined. Your blog prompted my wife to feel that we should really reconsider being greeters. We could perhaps have made your experience even better. So, thank you for that! Maybe next time you join us, we’ll give you a bulletin and a smile.

      • mhn125 says:

        WOW…Ted and Angela. I’ve never been an official greeter in a church, but my father did it quite often and found it to be a quite joyful experience. One church I went to called these people “door holders.” I’m not sure I like that term, but they do play an important roll. Have a look at the second or third post from January where I went to a Mormon church. No greeters, and consequently, no one said hello to me, smiled at me, shook my hand, or even said goodbye. I felt like I was just a fly on the wall. Of course, this was totally the opposite of what I expected. Known for its missionary services, I expected someone to follow me home. In reality, I’d much prefer the first over the second! On the flip side, I entered a Jehovah’s Witness church and while I didn’t care much for anything that came from the lectern, the people were so genuinely friendly and interested in me, and so caring to make sure I had the right song book and other material, so I wasn’t lost. Makes a difference.

  4. Andy says:

    A “Holiness church” means that they come from a movement that preached you can have victory over sin and temptation.

    In a lot of Christian churches, they teach that we have no choice but to struggle day by day. Holiness Movement Christians (who stem from early Methodists) believe in the “full Gospel” — that is, we can be saved, not just saved from hell in the afterlife, but from hell on earth. Even though mistakes can still be made, we can be brought into a state of “perfect love,” of patience, of moral excellence, through the purifying work of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s heart.

    Nazarenes call that teaching “entire sanctification.” I invite you to Google it, and if you have any questions please email me!

  5. JanG says:

    Have you attended an Orthodox Church? Please come visit us at St. Elias in Austin. Or find one near you. We are Antiochian Orthodox, but visiting Greek or Russian would essentially be the same church experience with a different ethnic flavor. Some are full of converts, others full of a large community of immigrants. Ours is a big mix of all!

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