First Baptist Church of New Braunfels

Date: June 17, 2018

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Several years have gone by since I blogged about 50 church visits in 52 weeks. Since moving from San Antonio to New Braunfels in 2016, I’ve thought of resurrecting the idea of visiting a wide variety of churches in my new hometown. The ultimate goal: Narrow down the long list of churches to one that feels “right” and most aligned with my spiritual path.

In 2014, I took a haphazard approach to choosing churches from one week to the next. One week, I’d go to a “fire and brimstone” type service and then feel called to go in the opposite direction toward a more mellow type of worship. During that year, I found my way to all the major religions; I worshiped in a Hindu Temple, Muslim Mosque, Cowboy Church, Buddhist service, a variety of Jewish Synagogues, and everything in between. At the end of the year, I felt as if I could walk in any center of worship without a single reservation. I finally became comfortable being uncomfortable and it was all okay!

On my New Braunfels church journey, I’ll use a different strategy. I plan to visit all the churches of one particular religion then move on to the next. That way, I can better compare and contrast my thoughts and feelings within one denomination before moving on to the next.

Why First Baptist Church of New Braunfels FIRST

IMG_9251As stated back in 2014, when I first visited Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio, Baptist roots run deep with grandparents from both sides of my family worshiping in the faith. As a result, my parents raised me and my siblings in the Baptist church, as well. So, I’ll start at my beginning with this new journey and choose the largest Southern Baptist church in the city.

Arrival

Unlike many of the previous church visits, I arrived well before the service time of 10:45 am. I didn’t see a visitor parking section, even though I drove around the large city block-sized building. Instead, I found my own visitor parking right at the front door. Yes, I still drive a Smart car, so I easily squeezed my tater tot-sized car between two larger vehicles. Woohoo!

After grabbing a program from the greeter, I took a seat in the back of the church to get the best camera angles of the sanctuary, which has a large vaulted ceiling, stained-glass panes on each side and one in the front of the church. In contrast to the austere outside facade, the inner sanctuary is beautiful and has been built with a great deal of wood, including wooden pews with red tweed cushions. Quite comfy!

Service Begins

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By the time the service starts, roughly 98 percent of the sanctuary is full and I can see that the make-up of the church trends middle-age to older. Unlike most churches these days, the congregants here dress up. Many of the older men wear suits, middle-aged men are found wearing slacks and polo shirts. Women wear dresses, but somewhere dressier pants and I even spotted a couple of hats. This is New Braunfels, so I’m sure a few had on jeans, though I didn’t spot any.

Like most Baptist churches, this one has a large choir section and a grand piano that appears to be about nine feet in length. However, times are a-changin’. Even now, I’m no longer surprised to see three guitar players, drums and an electric keyboard to go with that grand piano.

As with all contemporary and semi-contemporary types, the service begins by standing and singing to the words that appear on two large overhead screens. Knowing none of the songs, I still found them fairly easy to follow on screen. After a few songs and scripture reading, we moved on to the offertory portion of the service. Nothing out of the ordinary here — the expected wooden plates got passed from pew to pew in a timely fashion.

Message — Beginnings Genesis 1-12

Dr. Brad H. McLean, dressed in a suit, delivered a message centered on Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. From the pulpit, he gave an early analogy to shipwrecks and faulty maps versus a faulty compass. He drove home the message that the knowledge of good and evil would have been obtained by not eating from the tree of knowledge. By not eating of the fruit, Adam and Eve’s knowledge would have grown. Likewise, God sets up boundaries for us and as long as we stay within those boundaries we have his protection. If we stay within those boundaries, we can also reap the rewards of a fruitful existence under the grace of God.

Thoughts

Just as I am, is oft-sung in the Baptist church during the invitational portion of the service. You’ll find it sung here, as well. Following the invitational, the congregants heard the announcements, which included something rather unique to me. Vacation Bible School begins next week, so we were all asked to take a card on the way out of the sanctuary. Each card held a different family name with the associated children on it. We were asked to pray for the family this week and that the children would come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Very nice! The Tynes Family will be the recipient of my prayers this week.

If you want a church where you can sneak in the back, worship and go home until next week. This would be a good one for that. The congregation is large and the crowd is friendly but not pushy. If it takes you a while to dip your toe in the church scene, you can do it here rather anonymously.  If that’s your worship style, check it out. For even more anonymity, don’t miss the balcony seats.

Share your thoughts below on whether you prefer to jump into church membership with both feet at full speed, or do you dip a toe in from the back pew? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

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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!

 

News and Prayer Update: Christian Sudanese Woman Sentenced to Death has been Freed

This story has weighed heavy on my heart since it first broke in the news. A Sudanese woman (pregnant at the time and has since given birth to her second child) was sentenced to die because she declined to renounce her Christian faith. Even though raised in a Christian home, she had a Muslim father who she had not seen since she was six years of age, and thus, considered to be a Muslim by the Sudan government. Word just came down that she has been freed.

Now, let’s all keep praying for the young girls taken by the Boko Harum in Nigeria — 219 are still missing. 

Oak Hills Church – Crownridge Campus – San Antonio

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Sunday #24 – Oak Hills Church, 19595 IH 10 West, San Antonio

Why this Church?

Last week, I decided to go to a Church of Christ church this weekend, so last night I searched the online Yellow Pages and Oak Hills Church came up near the top. I wouldn’t have known this church from any other, but a few months ago, I attended an event and met a woman named Denise. She told me all about Oak Hills Church and invited me to come. I said I would at some point, so when the church name popped to the top of that list, I decided it was time. I later learned that while this church has its roots in Church of Christ, it is now a non-denominational church.

Preconceived Ideas about Oak Hills Church

I know very little about this church other than the following:

  • Max Lucado is one of its lead pastors. (I know he is an author of many best seller books and a recognized name. Still wondering if I’ve ever read any of his books, or have just heard of him through the grapevine.)
  • I’ve also been told that either David Robinson or Tim Duncan go to this church. (Have great respect for both men, so it must be a good place.)

Arrival

Denise and I agree to meet for the 9:45 service and fortunately for me, she tells me it starts at 9:30. I pull into the large expanse of a parking lot at about 9:28 a.m. and immediately see the Golden Ticket – a whole section for first time visitors.

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As I’m directed to a parking spot by a young man dressed in shorts, tennis shoes and an orange shirt like several others in the lot, I smiled and thought; Yep, this is going to be a good morning. 

He asked me if it was my first time, welcomed me and then directed me through the front doors, up the stairs and said I’d find the large auditorium at the back. Immediately, I was glad I’d gone back inside the house and switched from high heels to flats. Yes, there was an elevator, but for someone who just completed a five mile run, I thought that I’d feel like a wuss if I chose the easy way to the top.

Through the use of modern technology (smartphone), I eventually found Denise in a crowd of about 1500 people. She saved me a seat. Yay, Denise! As I sat down, I asked her about the Church of Christ thing, and she told me years ago it was a Church of Christ church, but later switched to non-denominational. She said that the earlier morning service is more reflective of those roots, with music that is done completely a cappella.

Service Begins

As with all the other non-denominational churches, this service begins with music directed by a band and yes (darn it) we stood. What is it with these non-denominational churches and this incessant standing at the beginning of the service? Isn’t anyone else running early in the morning and ready to sit down? Sigh The words to the songs were emblazoned across two large screens that were located way too high for my vantage point. I think those in the higher sections in the back were probably at the right angle, but nearer to the front, I had to crane my head to read the words. My favorite part of all this was thinking about the drummer located to the right of the stage in a little plexiglass box. Honestly, it reminded me of the Pope-mobile. I guess it’s for sound dampening, but sure looks funny. I’ve seen this in other churches, but never closed off on almost four sides.

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Finally, after three songs, we got to sit. At this point, I looked back to see that hardly a chair in this auditorium was left vacant. Then Denise leaned over to say that with the combined services, the attendance is around 4,000 to 5,000 each weekend.

The worship leader then gave us the good news – The San Antonio Spurs are World Champions. That announcement got everyone going.

Then we sang another song, while the worship leader read some words from his smartphone. Some musician on stage played a black instrument that had an unusual sound. Still wondering what that was. It looked a lot like a clarinet, but the diameter was much larger. From this vantage point, I also had a good view of the deaf interpreter. These guys and girls totally amaze me how they can follow along and not get lost.

Time for the Message

Then everything went dark and it felt much like a movie was about to begin. Wasn’t sure if I was about to see a video production or hear a sermon.

However, this was just the lead-in to the sermon.

Then Max Lucado walked on stage and stood in front of a generic black music stand like thing – no fancy podium, no altar, just pastor Lucado and his notes. His sermon was the last in a series called “The Glory Days” and centered on the story of Joshua.

He first asked why the book of Joshua was in the Bible. The answer: Because the story of Joshua reminds us that we need to come out of the wilderness and claim our inheritance and stop walking around in circles.

In fact, Lucado said, the word “inheritance” is mentioned 51 times in Joshua. He also reminded the audience that the Israelites may not have wandered around for 40 years, if they had just claimed their inheritance. “They were delivered from Egyptian bondage but still remained captive in fear, anxiety and dread.” He went on to say that discipleship is learning how to access God and all that you have already inherited.

My favorite analogy was when Lucato held up his smartphone and said that this phone had amazing power and capability, but for many of us, the smartphone is smarter than we are. He said, “I may know what an app is, but if I don’t know how to access it through my phone, that power is unavailable to me.”

After the sermon, pastor Lucado called those people to the front of the auditorium who may want to receive a special blessing and prayer. This reminded me a bit about the Hope Center Church and seemed to be similar to what the Pentecostals do at the end of their service. Then, everyone went back to their seats.

After that, we all prepared for Communion. The choir sang while the plate of bread and wine (er, uh, grape juice) was passed out. At this point, I had to smile. While the choir sang, a picture of stained glass windows was projected onto the backdrop behind the choir. Who says you can’t have a modern building with stained glass in it? And I bet it cost a lot less, too! The Communion reminded me of all the years spent in the Baptist Church with a plate of chicklet-sized crackers being passed down the aisles with a half shot of grape juice to follow. In many churches, this is a rather quiet, solemn portion of the service, but at Oak Hills Church the music made it a bit more lively. We all held the sacraments in our hands and then once they were all passed out, the worship leader instructed us to “eat of Christ’s body and drink of His blood.”

After that, a prayer was given and we all stood to clap and sing. That was one happy choir – lots of hands raised in praise, a leader jumping up and down on stage and a lot of swaying to and fro.

At the end, black curtains that had been blocking the sun were rolled back electronically to reveal floor to ceiling windows that I never knew were there. Then, pastor Lucado made a few announcements, including the one that he and his daughter finally got last minute tickets to last Sunday’s final playoff game. Of course, he said he was in the section at the top, where they needed oxygen masks to breath and he said he was quite sure that he saw Archangel Michael flying just below his section.

After a final prayer, we departed. My friend Denise wanted me to meet Max Lucado, so she took me to where he was and snapped a photo. Nice guy!

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Post Service Commentary

I’d consider this church to be one of the many mega churches in San Antonio – and there are many of those. This one has a different feel though and I liked it. Reminds me a lot of Mile Hi Church in Denver, so it really felt like home. I’ll still have to find a Church of Christ to go to at some point. Will keep looking for that one.

What’s Next?

I’ll be in Angel Fire, New Mexico next Sunday. I’d like to go to a Native American church, but it is about 20 miles into Taos where that is located. I’d have to borrow a vehicle and just don’t do that. My father taught me long ago, never borrow someone’s car and never let someone borrow yours. It’s a rule I’ve always tried to live by. So, I may be going to a church that I can walk to in Angel Fire. Who knows where I’ll be?

Al-Madinah Mosque (Muslim Children Education and Civic Center) – San Antonio

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Sunday #18 – Muslim Children Education & Civic Center, 5281 Casa Bella, San Antonio, TX

I had strong intentions of visiting a mosque in San Antonio before the Texas heat could squelch my resolve to attend. While a silly idea to most Texas-based Muslims who have learned to dress in loose, all-cotton, draping fabric that breathes, this non-Muslim arrived back in Texas with very few long sleeved, high-necked garments. And, you’d be hard pressed to find one tunic in my entire wardrobe.

However, the recent reported kidnapping of 275 Nigerian schoolgirls by Islamic militants who have threatened to sell them into the sex trade fueled my determination to understand what it is about the Islamic faith, or in this case the twisting of the Islamic faith, that could generate such cruelty in the name of God, or Allah. While I didn’t gather the complete answer (I’m afraid Muslims and Christians still struggle to understand the underlying causes of such horrendous acts in light of the values predominant throughout the Qur’an: righteousness, forgiveness, justice and the value of human life.)

What I learned yesterday from the Muslims I met, is that this display of violence in the name of Islam is not Islam. Comparing the two would be like saying all Christians are the same as Eric Robert Rudolph who was responsible for a series of anti-abortion and anti-gay-motivated bombings that killed people in the late 90s. As with most non-extremist Muslims, Christians know this is not Christianity.

Preparations for a Mosque Visit

When I started this journey I knew that attending services from all of the world’s major religions would be necessary, even though some would be quite foreign to my own worship experience. I’d previously spoken to several Muslim men who shared that men and women worship in different areas, that I would need to cover my head to enter the Mosque and to dress modestly. Yet, I’d not met a Muslim woman to confirm all of this.

Earlier in the week, I received a wonderful gift from God. As I drove into a parking spot at the local library, I saw a Muslim woman walking through the library doors. I silently asked God to provide the opportunity to speak to her and ask a few questions. As I walked through the library entrance, I glanced around searching for this woman, but didn’t see her. I walked to the back, grabbed a DVD, but didn’t see her there. Then, I walked to the rack of CD’s to pick up the next set of Jazz music. Once I had three in hand, I turned to my next daily library stop – the juvenile Spanish book section. There she was! I swallowed my fear and asked if I could ask her a few questions about attending a Mosque. She smiled and said, “yes.”

From there, I learned Nazneen grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, brought to the U.S. at the age of 9 when her father (a surgeon) did his surgical residency in South Carolina. Nazneen spoke perfect English and shared that her father had also exposed she and her brothers to most every religion. They visited places of worship and attended services because they had the opportunities. Nazneen says she is thankful to her parents who never thought this would be a threat to their own beliefs. Nazneen said the questions she had were about the requirements of the faith, not the foundation of her belief. She went to a  Buddhist temple, worshipped with Catholics, Methodists, Mormons and so on. She then recommended a Mosque nearby, shared her business card and said if I ever wanted to go, she’d be happy to take me, as she often gave tours to others. So blessed to have met this beautiful woman donned in a headscarf and sporting the most disarming smile, and to realize we were both kindred souls, I took her card, turned and silently pumped my fists to quietly whisper “YES!”

Then it was on to “what do I wear?” and “how in the world do these women wrap these headscarves around their head?” As so many of you know…..all knowledge can be found on YouTube! I search for “how to wrap a Muslim headscarf” and not only learn how, but also the many different ways one can be tied. Also learn that they are called “hijabs.”

Simple Easy Hijab Tutorial

With the help of YouTube, I skillfully secure my hijab with pins and I’m off to a service in a Mosque. I did get quite a few stares while driving. Hard to say whether it was the hijab or the Smart Car. Even after five years, I still get people staring at the car and asking me questions, so curious and perplexing stares no longer bother me.

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Preconceived Ideas about Islam and Muslims

Going in, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seriously considered my preconceived thoughts about Muslims, though I’m sure we all have developed them through news reports. Here are a few that I quickly came up with:

  • Muslim women are covered from head to toe while out and about, though burkas are not the typical attire worn by Muslim women in the U.S.
  • From all the reports I’ve heard, Muslim women remain subservient to men. That concept didn’t sit well with my view of how women should be treated. I’m not a feminist, but I certainly believe strongly in the rights of all people and that we are all equal.
  • Muslims are devout.

Mosque Arrival

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As I pull into the packed CMECC parking lot through iron gates, I immediately notice quite a few cabs. First thought: WOW. Muslims must really be devout if they take cabs to the Friday service. Second thought: <pounding my forehead with the base of my palm> Many cabbies in my experience, are either Hindu or Muslim. Duh! Of course, this is where they would be on a Friday. 

I weave through the parking lot to find a space near the back, then see a number of policemen. First thought: Oh, that’s nice. They must be here to direct all the traffic, like they do at Cornerstone Church along 1604. Second thought: <tapping my index finger to the corner of my mouth> Wait a minute! Like Cornerstone Church that stations bodyguards at the base of the pulpit where Jim Hagee preaches, these gun-toting guys in blue are here for protection of Muslims from other Americans! Third thought: Sad world we live in, if that is the case.

As I turn off my car, I grab my purse and notepad, but suddenly see something on the seat of my car that sends a “you-are-such-an-outsider” shiver up my spine, much the same way as when I drove into the Mormon church parking lot and saw that I had left a CocaCola sitting in the cup holder. No, I didn’t have a beer in the car (Muslims don’t drink alcohol). Instead, I see the jazz CD “Body Language” by Benny James sitting on the seat beside me. With horror, I look to see an almost naked woman’s body splayed across the CD cover. Anyone who might pass by my car would immediately know that the person driving this itty bitty car didn’t belong in a Mosque. I quickly swat it to the floorboard, where it lands upside down. PHEWWW!

Since Nazneen is running a few minutes behind, she phones and tells me enter through the women’s door and to take a seat in the back of the room where I’ll find several couches. Thank Allah for Nazneen. I would have been totally lost about what to do. As I enter behind another woman, I notice that she slips off her shoes, so I follow in step. I then see the couches and take a seat. From my vantage point, I can see women sitting on a large rug, one with a baby in her lap, another young boy bobbing up and down and all around. Other women sit in a line of chairs near the front.

Service Begins

The service has already begun when I arrive. As I sit down, I note the disembodied voice over a loud speaker. Terrible, terrible microphone and someone should really sell them a new sound system. Other women stroll in during this time, kick off their shoes, walk to the rug and begin their traditional Muslim prostrations.

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As I watch from behind, I immediately think of yoga. On my birthday earlier this week, I made resolved to do a yoga tape every day for the next year, so I could arrive at my 55th birthday with much more flexibility. As I watch these women stand up, sit down, go into “child’s pose” then lean their head to the floor and repeat this several times, I decide that if I were simply to become Muslim, I might not need to do yoga every day. This thought quickly passes, as I listen to the imam’s harsh rhetoric over the loudspeaker. I struggle to make sense of what he is saying. I catch a few words about the “son of Adam,” but for the most part his quick switches between English and Arabic, have my comprehension flipping back and forth like a fish out of water.

Then, Nazneen arrives. Ahh – someone who can make sense of this for me. She walks in with a friend from Pakistan and sits beside me. A few minutes later, she motions for us to follow her. We walk beside the rug and through some doors that lead up several flights of stairs. From atop, she opens a door onto an expanse of ornate carpet and I quickly note a large three-sided glass enclosure.

She motions me to follow and takes me to the middle of the glass enclosure and gestures for me to sit close to the glass. From above, I can finally see the imam, dressed in black with a shear white cape drapped around him. He delivers his message while standing in a small alcove with a round awning jutting out from above. In front of him is a semi-circular table made of granite; behind him is a large office chair. The bearded imam gesters and points to the men below (I can’t see them from this vantage point). Again, I struggle to understand what he is talking about, but I can’t understand anything with all the back and forth between languages. Then, the imam delivers a prayer. I sneak a peak to my left at Nazneen and to the woman sitting to my right. Both have their hands cupped in front of their bodies as if receiving blessings.

After that, Nazneen motions for me to follow her outside onto the balcony so we can talk, while the second half of the service takes place. Outside she does a brain dump of Muslim information on me. She smiles and apologizes for giving me so much information at one time, but I tell her it’s okay and that I’ll absorb as much as I can remember. She shares that women are not supposed to come to the Mosque if they are on their period, because it is considered unclean. Apparently cleanliness is a big deal to the Muslims. A few minutes later she and I tiptoe down some back stairs, past the women on the first floor who are lined up in prayer. We walk outside where she points out where the men wash themselves before attending the Friday service. This is in addition to their showers or baths in the morning at their own home.

Nazneen then shares more Muslim information about cleanliness and its importance, then looses me with details about “intention.” She shares that in the Islamic faith, intention is very important. “God/Allah honors intention and rewards intention,” she explains. “Let’s say I have the intention to call someone who is sick. If I have that intention and for some reason don’t follow through, God/Allah still rewards that,” says Nazneen. “Of course, the deed is always better to do and is rewarded higher, but intention is rewarded, as well.” I had a hard time wrapping my head around that concept, so I let it drop. I realize from my past studies that intention is a powerful concept, but my head is swimming and it isn’t the time to explore it further.

Service Ends

Nazneen wanted me to see everything, so as the men file out, she takes me inside the men’s entrance. We kick off our shoes again and she walks me into the room that I had seen from above. Nazneen is such a strong woman and I ask her about her feelings in having to worship separately from men. She says they pray behind men because men are weaker; they are more easily distracted [by womens presence]. (I know this for a fact, after watching what happened during the recent Easter service from the back of the room. That’s the funny thing that occurred that I didn’t previously share, due to the risqué nature of the incident. Call or email me, if you want the full story in private. It carries some inherent wisdom.)

From this room, I re-learn that Muslims pray five times a day and always face Mecca when they do so. This is to demonstrate unity, which is very important to all Muslims. Apparently though, the prostrations are different lengths throughout the day. Nazneen shared that there are only two prostrations in the morning when Muslims are busy getting ready for work, but four at night, when more time is available.

I learn that Muslims think of God/Allah all day long. She says they wake up thinking of Allah. Before they go to work they think of Allah. They pray five times a day to Allah. They say a small prayer before each meal. Pretty much all day, they think of Allah. Nazneen talks a bit about the holy month of Ramadan and how they fast during the day, all month long – no drink, no food, no sex with your spouse from sun up to sun down. Nazneen tells me that Muslims are very disciplined people and after hearing this, I don’t doubt her word.

We step into a corridor and she shows me where Muslims give back to the community. Within a cut-out in one wall, I see five slits with different names. Nazneen shares that Zakat would be considered the tithe in the Christian church and is the only one required. Unlike Christians who are instructed to tithe 10 percent of their income, Muslims are instructed to pay all their bills and obligations, then it is between the Muslim and God as to what percentage is given, but it should be on a regular basis. During Eid (like our Christmas), a Muslim can’t enter the Mosque, if they have not given their Zakat.

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Post Service Commentary

After the service, Nazneen, her friend and I go to a restaurant to chat further and to get the rest of my questions answered.

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Me: What is the difference between Islam and Muslim? I seem to use the words interchangeably and I know that’s probably wrong.
Nazneen: Islam means “submission to the will of God.” A Muslim is one who submits to the will of God.
Me: Okay, I get it. Kind of like the difference between Christianity and a Christian.

Me: What is the role that an imam plays in Islam?
Nazneen: The word “imam” means “a leader in prayer.” We pray in a straight line and the imam is like the straight chalk marker to guide us in the Islamic faith. We believe we are all created equal in the eyes of God and only through our good deeds do we attain higher status. The imam is usually more learned and well read in the faith and he leads us in prayer and guides us in honoring God.

Me: If you don’t speak Arabic, how do you understand what the imam is saying?
Nazneen: My native language is Urdu, so I do not speak Arabic. However, many of the Arabic words spoken during the prayers are the same, so I understand some of it. I’d like to take you to another Mosque sometime that is done all in English, so it would make more sense to you.
Me: I’m game.

Me: Are all imam’s like this one with such a harsh delivery?
Nazneen: No, each one is different. You’d find many differences between each imam.
Me: Okay, so some rant and rave their messages like pastor John Hagee or the pastor at Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church that jumped up and down on a chair, while others have a teaching style like David Jeremiah or pastor Bobby Martin from the Church at Creek’s End? Got it!

Then before we left the restaurant, Nazneen handed me a copy of the Qur’an. I was so excited. I have a desire to collect and read all the religious texts available, but I’d not had my hand on a Qur’an. I’m too frugal to go to Barnes and Noble and pay full price, so I’d been looking at Half Price Books. Unfortunately, all the Qur’ans are under lock and key — another sad commentary on our world.

Recommendation

To understand even a portion of what goes on in a Mosque or a Masjid, as Nazneen refers to it, please ask a Muslim to accompany you, if you decide to venture in. I’m so grateful that God gave me the opportunity to meet someone like Nazneen, who could provide some context to what I witnessed and answer many of my questions.

Don’t know anyone that is Muslim? Just ask. God always provides what you need.

Soapbox Commentary

Those that know me also know that I rarely get on my soapbox about much of anything, but this is important. As parents, there is no greater responsibility to your nation, your world and to your children and their future, than to teach them respect for other people, including their religious beliefs. Nazneen shared that growing up and going to school in South Carolina was difficult. She was called a “brownie” and other derogatory things just because she looked different.

Nothing pains me more than for parents to allow their children to make fun of other people for their weight, large nose, skinny legs, extra height, skin color, buck teeth, protruding ears, missing arms and legs, social status, economic status, religious beliefs or any number of other things that make us absolutely unique in a larger pool of sameness.

Children pattern our own behavior, that’s how they learn. Children denigrate another person, because they learn to do so from parents, or learn to do so from friends whose parents castigate others.

If you don’t think one remark can shatter a person’s ego, think about this. In the sixth grade, a young man for whom I secretly had a crush, stood with me in the lunch line. He made a rather innocuous comment about my sister, yet one I took to be quite derogatory toward me. I never forgot that comment and it stuck with me in the classes I had later in the day. After school, I carried that comment home with me; I turned it over and over in my mind, thought about it constantly, fusing it to my psyche like SuperGlue to paper. I allowed that comment to affect me for all of my young and most of my adult life, using that comment to confirm what I erroneously thought of myself. Years later, I spoke to that man about the comment (I consider him a good friend to this day). He profusely apologized, but said he didn’t even remember uttering those words.

How is it that one person can unleash a thought so quickly forgotten, while the other person accepts what is verbally given, then carries it for the rest of their life, until one day when finally realizing the comment does not define them? It takes great maturity to realize that you are not what another person thinks of you. Most children do not have that maturity and therefore will carry those little remarks made to and about them throughout their life. Words are powerful. Teach your children and grandchildren to use them wisely and judiciously.

Hate is prevalent from east to west. Until we take personal responsibility for building people up instead of tearing them down, we are destined to create an environment that spawns more violence and horrific acts, like the ones we are now hearing about in Nigeria. I ask that we all pray together  for these girls’ safe return and for their captors. who are in dire need of understanding, instruction and much education. <<jumping down off my soapbox>>

What’s Next?

Since I had to process so much new information from the Islamic faith, jumping into something equally new like Hindu would probably overload my circuits, so I’m thinking Lutheran, Anglican or Quaker next week. Please feel free to share your thoughts on that below. Or, please feel free to share what you may have been teased about, so we can all know our experiences while different, are still the same.  Share your thoughts about bullying, or anything else you feel could help others. That’s what we are hear for.

Coker United Methodist Church — San Antonio

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Sunday #15 – Coker United Methodist Church, 231 E. North Loop Rd., San Antonio, TX

Happy Easter, everyone!

Thanks to those who provided feedback after last week’s posting about the First Church of Christ, Scientist. I’m truly grateful to hear from people I know, and those I’ve never met who take time to share their knowledge about the various facets of a church service that I just don’t get. Who knew that the odd offering plates used in the Christian Science church are designed to prevent those around you from knowing how much you have just dropped in the “plate.” CLEVER!

Why this Methodist church?

My book club members have shown continued interested in the blog and what I’m learning along the way, so suggestions of churches proliferate during these monthly meetings. One of the book club members sings at this Methodist church, so she suggested I come to Easter services at Coker and hear the orchestra. Sounded good to me, as I’ve not heard an orchestra in church yet. Wouldn’t you know that with three Easter services today, I would chose the only one that didn’t have the orchestra playing. Instead, a wind ensemble regaled the crowd with bright sounds of trumpets and other horns.

Besides, how many churches could I possibly attend that have their very own cemetery? How cool is that? And I didn’t even know who Coker was before going to church today. Must have missed that in my Texas history class. Apparently, the state of Texas gave Coker this land for his efforts in the Battle of San Jacinto.

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My Preconceived Ideas of Methodist Churches

I believe I may have been to a Methodist church way, way, WAY back in the 60s or 70s. My good friend Helen Loper attended the Methodist church in Sour Lake at one time and if I think hard enough, I do believe I attended church with her on one occasion. If memory serves, which it usually doesn’t, I think the Methodist service was much like Baptist services, except there was a bit more ritual thrown in.

When First Baptist Church of Nome burned to the ground, First Methodist of Nome opened their doors to their neighbors and allowed them to hold services in their church while the Baptists rebuilt. So, I’d also say from that experience these Methodists are people with generous hearts.

Arrival

With it being Easter and no formal long bike ride planned for the day, I lassoed Don Bullard to accompany me to church. As we whipped into the parking lot, we had about five minutes to spare before the 8:15 a.m. service. Guess what awaited me in the lot – a first-timers, EMPTY parking spot. Score!

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As we entered the sanctuary, several men dressed in suits greeted us, and again another gentleman greeted me as we took a seat in a pew about half-way back from the stage. A few seconds later, a procession began down the main aisle, comprised of the pastor, other ministers carrying a pitcher of water (still don’t know what the symbolism of pouring water before a service is all about), altar boys and girls carrying candles, another person holding a large bible in the air and then all the choir members filing in after that. I looked around and saw the small group of horns and (gasp) hand bells at the front. My heart jumped because I used to play in the hand bell choir at First Presbyterian Church in Kingwood. Such fun to ring!

Service Begins

As the service began, we all stood to sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” Three large projection screens highlighted the words to the hymn. About right here, I thought: These projection screens are putting hymn publishers out of business. Hymnals can still be found in the back of the pews, but nobody ever opens them. What a waste!

While we sang, I looked around and saw that this early morning crowd was primarily comprised of older adults, in the 40-80 age range – those who actually enjoy waking up early. My peeps! I guess the younger crowds arrive later, because the service was only half full. Men primarily wore suits and ties while others dressed business casual, but I kind of expected that with it being Easter.

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Staring straight ahead, I noticed tall strips of stained glass windows framed the stage and a massive ceiling soared above with a swath of interspersed lights. When I give you my tag-a-long friend’s background as a degreed electrical engineer, you’ll understand why his thoughts weren’t on stained glass this morning. Instead, he couldn’t help fixating on how anyone would ever change the light bulbs way up there. <rolling eyes> Much more important to fixate on the stained glass.

Together, we also became fixated on Pastor Barbara’s stole she wore around her neck and over her robe. Both sides of her stole together made one single image and strangely throughout the service, neither side ever rode up or down, but left a beautiful embroidered scene before the congregation. Not sure why that fascinated me so.

Of all the churches I’ve attended thus far, I’ve never heard a better storyteller than Pastor Barbara. She immediately went into a story about a young girl who became enchanted with horny toads. It’s a long story, but I can tell you that it does, indeed, relate to Easter. What mesmerized me the most wasn’t this particular story, or the following story about the death of a fellow pastor she knew. Even though that story brought a tear to my eye that welled up at the corner and then plunged down my cheek, it was the pastor’s uncanny ability to deliver a story, and even an entire sermon, without one “filler” word that had me transfixed. Those um’s, ah’s and you know’s that we sadly use to fill the gaps in our speech while our mind moves from one thought to another were never present the whole morning.

I’ve only ever met one other person with this amazing ability – Doreen Virtue – a spiritual doctor of psychology and a fourth generation metaphysician. To understand just how amazing this talent is, search Coast to Coast AM with George Noory and listen to a past Doreen Virtue interview. Truly an amazing example of an interview or speech without a single filler.

After the sermon came the offering. While the ushers passed the brass plates from pew-to-pew, the choir sung in the background. The only difference that I noted at this point was that the ushers came back to the front, where the altar boy and girl held out their hands for the plates that they then took to the altar.

After one more hymn came the highlight of the service – the Hallelujah Chorus. With the instruments playing, everyone sang along to this piece that can bring the hairs on your arms to attention, no matter how many times you may have heard it before.

Post Service Commentary

I enjoyed worshipping here for Easter. I’m so disappointed I missed the orchestra, but the wind instruments and choir didn’t disappoint. The service felt very much like a Baptist service, only with a bit more ritual and slightly more reverence. The only clapping came at the end of the service after the Hallelujah chorus. However, I did see one evangelical slip into the service, because she raised her hand high in the air as the choir sang the well-known chorus. Nobody joined her, but having experienced this before in other churches, I recognized the overflow of gratitude that causes someone to demonstrate appreciation in this way. See…..I’m learning.

Oh, and one other funny thing happened at the end of the service. It would be inappropriate to mention here, but ping me if you want to hear this funny story and I’ll delight in sharing it with you.

What’s Next?

Sister Suzanne has an extra ticket on Thursday to hear a religious speaker who is in town in Austin, so I’ll head north to attend that with her. Does that count as a church service? It might have to, as I’m supposed to be in Wimberley for a bike race on Sunday…..only watching, not participating. Perhaps I can sneak away and take in some type of service close by. Stay tuned….

Hope Center Church – (Pentecostal) San Antonio

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Sunday #12 – Hope Center Church, 4545 N. Loop 1604 W., San Antonio, TX

One of the positive sides of visiting 50 churches in one year is that you can wear the same dress every Sunday and know that no one is wondering why you don’t make another trip to the thrift store. I have this one very comfortable dress and prefer to wear it to church. Wouldn’t work if I had to go the same church every week.

Since the start of my church exploration in the same dress, I’ve met many people who are fascinated by the journey. They wonder about their own courage if they were to tackle the same, while others tell me about the churches they’ve visited in the past. Makes for great conversation.

What surprised me the most is to learn of others who have made a similar trek. I met Rebecca about a month ago. She was raised Catholic and had previously taken classes at University of the Incarnate Word. While there, she took an ecumenical course that required her class to visit many different churches. She had visited many of the same faiths that I had and we really enjoyed comparing notes. I quickly wondered if other colleges required the same of their students for certain classes. She said that endeavor really opened her eyes.

After I began my journey, I wanted to see if others had blogged about doing something similar. I fortunately ran across Steve Fuller, who wrote The Church Experiment. A much better writer than I, his 2009 blogging journey intersperses some rip roaring comedy in places.

Another person I met the week after my first foray into church hopping was Lisa, a 39-year-old woman who had answered my Craigslist posting for a free coffee maker. She stopped by to pick it up for her new parish in south San Antonio. I learned that she and her husband started visiting different churches four years ago, but only during the summer when they had off from teaching Sunday School. She and her husband Danny began their summer church journeys to better understand what others believe and how they worship. They then take that information back to their Sunday School children to help them understand and appreciate the differences.

Here’s a short interview I did a few weeks ago.

From where did the idea of visiting churches begin?

When I met my second husband, he wasn’t from here. He wasn’t as church-going as I was, so I thought I’d get him started back to see if it would become a part of his life. He just went along with me, but really got into it.

What did you get out of visiting different churches and parishes?

I have a strong belief that we need to understand different beliefs and cultures. In the Catholic faith, we have people come into the church that are what you would call converts. We like to understand what their previous beliefs have been and what drew them to the Catholic Church.

What have your own children gotten from this endeavor?

My daughter attends a public school and is now almost 12. She comes home with questions all the time about four of her friends who are Mormon. She invites the girls over, but they are never permitted to come for an overnight stay, saying they are not allowed to spend time with their friends in that way. So, I’ve helped her not to judge, but simply to ask questions.

What is your basic philosophy on different religions?

For the most part, everybody has their beliefs and a God they believe in. As long as you are going somewhere and having that connection, that’s the whole thing. We all need faith; we all need peace. No matter what you believe in, we are all human. We need to treat people with a little respect. That generates more peace and love.

Have you ever had anyone look askance at you for “church hopping?”

Funny that you should ask – most remarks come from my family; others come from church friends. I tell those people that I’m firm in my Catholic beliefs. I believe there is nothing wrong in visiting a different religion so you can learn about their beliefs. We always go to a Catholic Mass on the weekend when we visit another church, so we always attend to our faith first. Most people agree with me. If we would all drop our fears and learn about someone else’s faith, we will learn more and have more understanding. Getting to know other people and what they believe is a first step. If people will take that first step, I think our world would be a better place.

 

So now on to the Pentecostal church I will visit today. The 9 am service is one hour and 45 minutes…oh my! But the second one at 11:00 is TWO hours long. I’m headed to the first one. 🙂

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Why This Church?

This week, I needed to stretch my comfort zone and visiting a Pentecostal Church would be a reach. Earlier in the week, I looked up Pentecostal churches in San Antonio. I immediately had a question as to why Assembly of God churches came up in a search for Pentecostal ones, but got that answer today.

Churches are notorious for having lousy websites, but this one stood out above the rest, and the church was nearby.

My Preconceived Ideas of Pentecostal Churches

I only knew one person from my early grade school years that was possibly Pentecostal. She always wore dresses below her knees and never cut her hair, so that’s about the extent of my exposure to anyone who was raised in the Pentecostal church. Based on that, here is what I suspect I’ll find today.

  1. Women wearing longer dresses or skirts – so much for my above the knee dress. Guess today, I’ll pull out the skirt I wore to the Mormon Church.
  2. Women’s tresses will be long or pulled into a bun – not much I can do to fit in other than wearing a wig; I don’t have one.
  3. Pentecostals probably raise their hands in praise to God
  4. Pentecostals likely practice glossolalia – “speaking in tongues.”
  5. Some Pentecostals worship with rattlesnakes, though I think that is relegated to the Pentecostals in Kentucky.

Arrival

Yep….late again. I wrote down 545 N Loop 1604 W instead of 4545, so wound up at the Shrine Center. Only thing going on there was a motorcycle training course. I need to get my motorcycle license, but didn’t have the time today. Besides, the skirt would have been a problem.

I pulled into the church lot and saw a greeter at the door, so I knew I wasn’t too, too late. He greeted me, then once inside, I met Bebe Gonzalez, who told me there wasn’t a program for the service, but to take a seat anywhere and that the first song had almost finished.

Service Begins

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I took a seat mid-way through the rows and rows of chairs. At the start of the service, only about 25-30 people were standing in front of about 450 chairs. But it was the early service, so I expected the crowd to be less. By the end of the service, about 90 people had rolled in, all fairly young to middle-aged (women in dresses and long skirts, men wore everything from suit and tie to jeans).

During the last few stanzas of that song, an older woman with gray hair pulled into a chignon came over, hugged me, then said she was glad I had come to worship with them. Similar to the pastors from Kendall County Cowboy Church and Church Under the Bridge, pastor Nathan Scoggins also came over and introduced himself.

After the small choir, band and worship song leaders finished the first song, to which people sung from words on a large overhead screen, the pastor walked to the pulpit that stood amidst a backdrop of heavy purple velvet curtains, purple lighting and with gold theatre-like drapes hanging on both sides of the stage. He gave details about some church business, including information on what the church would soon be buying, and then about the architect who would be hired to start work on the new sanctuary. Pleased to hear that the church would start this project without going into debt; that told me the church was building from a place of financial strength.

Then came the offering. Earlier than an offering I’ve seen any church have, this one was a bit different. After some kind of quiet blessing up front, the men sauntered around and handed the plate to a few people. Never came by me and they didn’t seem to have any pass-the-plate-down-the-pew structure to the whole process.

Rockin’ and Rollin’ From the Pulpit

Then, Reverend Robert Bayer came to the podium to preach the third in a series of sermons – this one timely titled “A Flood to Remember.” Since the movie Noah hit the big screen this week, churchgoers throughout the nation have been critical of its creative license that expanded upon the biblical story.

Known within the church as being a biblical scholar, Rev. Bayer delivered a sermon based upon the bible, quoting countless versus throughout the Old and New Testament. By far, this sermon had more biblical references than all the other churches I had visited combined. Reverend Bayer heavily sprinkled his delivery with congregation engagement prompts like “Can I hear an Amen?” and “Someone shout HALLELUJAH!”

I’m not one for all the shouting and hollering from the pulpit, but Reverend Bayer is a delightful preacher who sprinkles his heavy-hitting sermon with light-hearted comedic insights that make it more palatable for a spiritual wuss like me. He even used a new reference for people like me in his sermon – “in-and-outers.” That beats “church hopper” or “church whore” as some wisecracking friends call me.

The reverend covered a lot of ground in this sermon. After talking about Noah, he touched on the rapture saying, “It’ll be ‘Halle’ here, then ‘lujah’ there!”

Moving on, he talked about Jesus feeding the masses in the bible, then asked, “What would you do if 5000 people showed up at your house for dinner?” He said, “There’s only so much water that can go into a soup.”

Then, he moved into thoughts around prayer and building an altar for thanks. He said, “First thing people do when they get on their knees is that they suddenly get the ‘gimmes’ instead of offering thanks.”

Guilty!

Then came the part of the service that can often feel uncomfortable for non-Pentecostal folk like me – the call for everyone to come down to the altar. Most everyone in the audience went to the front, sans me. Some laid their bodies across a couple of stairs, others knelt and while others stood behind them, all with arms raised high into the air. I heard a lot of moaning and praising going on. I stayed in my seat – I’m much more comfortable being the observer versus the participant in situations where I’m not entirely comfortable.

At one point during this altar call, the same gray-haired woman came over to me and said again how glad she was that I came, said “God bless you,” and  “I hope you’ll come back some time.” That felt completely genuine and so welcoming. Then the lead pastor dismissed everyone and told the congregation to go greet someone after the service.

Post Service Commentary

All in all, this was a wonderful service. I happen to love the color purple, so the whole environment was soothing to me, minus the go-to-the-front and show how much you love and thank God portion. I liked the fact that this church is very focused on multinational worship. They have a Spanish service and would like to offer other services in different languages.

After the service, I went back to Bebe and learned why a Google search of “Pentecostal throws up hits on “Assembly of God.” She said, “At one time the two faiths were joined, but the Pentecostals split off when a difference in theology occurred, primarily related to baptism.” Assembly of God baptizes in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, whereas the Pentecostals baptize in the name of Jesus, believing that God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus are one.

So, no snakes, no healing demonstrations today, just arm-raising-amen-hallelujah praise of God.

What’s Next?

I’m thinking it might be Scientology next week, but who knows? Any requests? I have committed to worship at a large Methodist Church for Easter, where they have an orchestra. That’ll be awesome.