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.

Baps Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (Hindu Temple) – San Antonio

photo 1-24     Sunday #41 – BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, (Hindu Temple) San Antonio, TX

Why this temple?

Not knowing a single Hindu person in San Antonio, I reached back out to my Muslim friend Nazneen who was born in India. She graciously got in touch with people she knew and found a Hindu Temple where we could both learn more about Hindu religious practices and beliefs.

My head swam with all the different names used; I’ve never seen so many consonants and vowels used in one language; the long names made it difficult for me to follow everything, so I just tried to soak in as much as I could. Much of what I relay in this blog has no structure and remains just the bits and pieces I picked up on Sunday afternoon at the temple. Most of the tidbits are random and maybe just of interest to me. This visit definitely warrants another trip so I can hopefully become more familiar with all the various words and meanings.

My preconceived ideas of Hindus

Before my visit, I expected the following:

• Colorful saris or sarees (not sure which is the correct pluralization of that word)
• Lots of incense
• Smell of curry – it’s one of those spices that’s a lot like cigarette smoke – when used, it penetrates your clothing, home and your complete essence. I rarely use curry when I cook; sometimes I like it, but most of the time I don’t.
• Indians seemed to be the most adept at sitting on the ground and completely comfortable in doing so. I expect to see a lot of sitting.

Yep, that’s about it. I’m afraid I’m Hindu ignorant, so I looked forward to learning more. Below, you’ll find a beginner’s crude understanding of this Hindu sect, so please forgive all the mistakes I’m about to make in referencing various aspects to which I don’t have a full understanding.

Arrival

I pulled into an iron gate that surrounds the mandir (their word for “temple”) that sits conspicuously along Hwy 1604 North. Odd how you can drive by a building over and over again and never see it, until you look for it. I parked in the first spot I found and waited for Nazneen to arrive. Several young boys played hoops on a court next to my loaner Mercedes (Smart Car was in the shop). By the time the basketball hit the car for a second time, I knew it was time to move this loaner vehicle. Once in my second parking spot, far, far away from the court, I texted Nazneen who was already inside and headed through the front doors.

We met her friend, who greeted me with hands in a prayer position and gave an ever so slight bow. I would learn later that this Hindu sect often bows down to touch the feet of elders in hopes of receiving blessings. I seemed to be younger than this woman, so thankfully she didn’t greet me in this way; I would not have known what to do and would have been so embarrassed by the paint stains on my feet from painting a room earlier in the day. (No shoes worn in Hindu Temples or Mosques).

Nazneen’s friend gave us a quick overview of what goes on at different times during Sunday. We learned that we missed a 4:30 service and that a service would be happening at 6:00 or 6:30 but it would be in the native language of Gujarti – an easy thing to follow for Nazneen because that’s her native language; for me – not so much. I don’t know one word of Gujarti, though I have heard Nazneen say “Neigh” for “no.” My one learned Gujarti word.

We thought we might be attending a Diwali event. Diwali is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in the fall. It signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance and good over evil. From what I gather, it’s sort of a cross between what American’s celebrate in Christmas and New Year’s combined. However, Diwali was later in that week.

At one point, Nazneen’s friend went to the small book shop area and grabbed a children’s book called Sikshapatri and gave it to me to keep; it’s the shortened and English children’s version of what Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1830 CE) wrote to help devotees and sadhus lead virtuous lives. I promptly read it when I returned home and found the principles taught to be worthy of praise. I especially like the one that instructs: “Never perform a task immediately without thinking.”

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After answering a few more questions, we were led into a room where we could deposit our shoes and then were ushered to a back room where the young adults, teens and younger children had broken into groups and were discussing life lessons in English.

Hindu Version of Sunday School

I wish I could tell you what this portion of the meetings were called, but I’ve spaced on that. However, Nazneen and I both found the young adults to be delightful and most helpful in aiding our understanding of their customs and beliefs.

Nazneen wanted to know more about the bindi (red dot you see on the foreheads of many Hindu women). We learned that the name represents “small dot or dab” and signifies the sixth chakra. As Hindu women say their prayers in the morning, this is applied to help them remember the wisdom from the highest spiritual place.

We then talked a lot about dating – not allowed with Hindus and quite similar to the practices of most Muslims. Education is valued highly by the Hindus, so girls typically don’t even think about marriage until after they have finished their bachelor degrees. Men and women worship separately in Hindu temples and dating is just not a part of their culture. Once a woman decides she is ready for marriage, she tells family and friends and the word is spread. The women we spoke with say it’s now less of an arranged marriage and more like arranged introductions.

When we were introduced to the young women, who were all related (daughters and daughter-in-laws) to the woman whom we first met, we were told they had moved to the states from South Africa. Not knowing that there was a large body of Hindus in South Africa, I wanted to know more. I learned that indeed, the British took Indians to that area of the world to work the mines and in other industries. Knowing a bit (very little bit) about apartheid, I asked if the Indians were considered black or white. They explained that they were considered brown, so they were lumped in with the black population and were discriminated against. I immediately wanted to know what they thought of Nelson Mandela. I expected glowing praise, but that’s not what I received. One of the young women was kind enough to share her feelings about the progress that has been made since that time. It’s really too long to share, but I found her perspective fascinating.

I also learned that poojas (prayers) are said several times a day and like Muslims, they are instructive to say their first poojas before sunrise. Of course my comment was, “Well, that settles the whole sleeping in till 10:00am problem with teens!”

One of the most interesting topics we moved into was the subject of reincarnation. The young women wanted to know my views on reincarnation, which I shared, then I learned that Hindus believe that we go through 1.8 billion lives before we get to have a human experience. Boy, do I feel old now!

Service Begins

After the “Hindu Sunday School” – again, I can’t remember what Hindus call it, we moved into the main worship area. Nazneen walked me past the women sitting cross-legged on the floor and showed me to some chairs lined on the side of the room where mostly older people sat. Did I get upset by this obvious indication of my advanced years? NO. I was so glad that I wouldn’t have to sit cross-legged for a long time and would have more of a birds-eye view of what was to transpire.

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We walked in while a band sat crossed legged on the stage. Can’t tell you what kind of instruments they used. At that point, I noted the 1½ foot wall that ran down the middle of the room leading to the Hindu altar. Men sat in chairs on one side and women sat crossed legged on the floor across from them. After the music, the men who sat in some chairs moved those to the back, then sat on the floor while facing the Hindu altar that was surrounded by heavy curtains, donned in lights and consisting of several statues.

At that point, Nazneen left her seat on the floor and came to ask if I’d like to participate in what was to happen after the singing. I’d been told that this portion of the service was called circumlocution, or something like that. Candles that are in round clay trays are moved counterclockwise as they chant.

Then these clay trays were passed to the front and a couple of women passed around a candle. As it came to each person, he or she would place his or her hands over the flame then bring their hands over the top of the head and then to their heart. I even got to do this, but I had no idea what I was doing.

Clueless!

Then the lights were turned on and I watched as the women stayed seated and the men began doing their prostrations. It appeared to me that once they laid down on the floor, they would extend their arms out in front of them and then move their head from left side to right side and then do that all over again. Then, as quick as it started, it was all over.

Post Thoughts

Two expectations were quickly dispelled after the visit. I smelled no curry and no incense. In fact, I smelled more incense at the St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox church than this Hindu Temple, and I didn’t smell any curry at all. But this temple does have a separate area for food cooked by the Indian people who attend this temple. I had a wonderful time just going through all the different food stuffs that were so unfamiliar to me.

All in all, I enjoyed my visit to this Hindu temple. I met some great, peaceful people and although the names that are bandied about are so unfamiliar, if you have someone to coach you along the way, it will help. I believe you might also find helpful people in any Hindu temple you might happen upon, so check it out. You’ll either learn something or like me, have your brain short circuited by learning too much at one time!

What’s Next?

Didn’t make it to Joel Osteen’s church last weekend, so I’ll have to hit two services this weekend. One will definitely be the Spanish mission church. I’m not putting that one off, but things keep getting in the way. Not sure about the other selection just yet.  Not too many left to attend. One person at the Hindu Temple recommended checking out Jainism. That’s a form of Hinduism where they treasure all life to such a great degree that they cover their mouth, so as not to swallow any insects and thus kill them. Hmmm……I keep wondering how they might deal with termites?

Calvary Chapel of San Antonio, Universal City

photo 1-23    Sunday #40 – Calvary Chapel of San Antonio, 2935 Pat Booker Road, Universal City, TX

Why this church?

When I went to a Church of Christ church recently, I reached out to Debra Maffett to let her know that I had included her in my blog on that church. She thanked me, then shared that she had been going to a Calvary Chapel church and sent me a link to one in San Antonio. I had no idea that this group of churches existed. Not sure how they differ from other churches, but I’m off to find out.

Arrival

I left in plenty of time to make it to the 8:30 a.m. church service, but once on Pat Booker Road, I couldn’t find it. I pulled into a mall area and saw a theatre and some dressed up people getting out of their cars. I stopped someone to ask if this was the location of that church, but was told no. Oddly enough, I’ve wanted to find a church that meets in a movie theatre and today I learned right where one is! That service started at 9:00 a.m., so I set off to give it one more go in finding this church and if I couldn’t find it, I’d head back to the theatre. Off in a distance, I saw a large church with several crosses, so headed in that direction. Once there, the name didn’t jive, so I called the Calvary Chapel number from their website. BINGO! A live person answered the phone.

So let me just say that if any church leadership is reading this blog, do us a favor and man your phone lines on Sunday mornings, especially if you have a church located in a strip center, theatre, or off the beaten path. If I’d not reached that person by phone, I would have wound up at the theatre church this morning.

With the help of the kind person on the phone, I found the church. Funny, you really can’t tell the size of a church from its website. This website was quite extensive, so I thought it would be a stand alone building, but it really meets in a low visibility area. On the other hand, one of the biggest, if not the biggest church in America – Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church has a very simple website. So, lesson learned: Don’t judge a church by its website.

Service Has Begun

I walked into the worship area to a sea of people standing up from blue cushioned chairs. They’d just finished one song and now were in the midst of greeting one another. This greeting time went on way past the time most churches give for it and I credit that to this church being comprised of a bunch of friendly people.

photo 2-23     Several jean and t-shirt clad people came up to me and said hello. Others wearing more formal clothing hugged, talked and strolled around. The majority of the crowd seemed to be in the 24-45 age range, and I noted a mix of races: Anglo, Black, Hispanic, etc.

After the greeting came the announcements. Whoever did this bit was quite funny. Always love when what can be the most boring parts of the service are somehow transformed into something a bit more entertaining. The guy talked about an upcoming Time Change Pancake Breakfast. (That one sounded like fun!) Then after a few more announcements about a local mission project, an offering was mentioned, but he pointed out that we’d have that opportunity to drop something at the back of the church versus having an offering time during the service.

Then we stood for two songs with words displayed on two medium-sized screens that hung from both sides of the stage that centered on a backdrop of stone with a large copper bird of peace mounted on top. As the band played, I recognized one of the songs that has been sung in other non-denominational churches.

The Message

Pastor Ron Arbaugh gave the message from Ephesians Chapter 6. The King James Version of verse 13 and 14 talks about having your loins girded about with truth. Other more modern translations use the word “belt.” The pastor started out by saying how important belts are to our society. First there are tool belts, then championship belts, every day belts and of course, rodeo belts. However, from the scripture reading he focused the translation that says, “So stand ready, with truth as a belt tight round your waist, with righteousness as your breastplate.

I listened to the message, but my mind kept going back to the book that I’d just finished the day before – Sibel Edmonds’ “Classified Woman.” Sibel learned first-hand that standing on and up for truth is not always easy and can have great costs — personally, financially and emotionally. However, Edmonds says that when she became a U.S. citizen, she took an oath to defend the U.S. constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. So, she could not look the other way as an FBI Turkish and Farsi translator when she learned information that put our national security interests at ongoing risk. She stood on the truth, unfortunately discovering that all her battles would soon become losses. In the end, however, she was the one who walked away knowing she had done everything possible to help right the many wrongs being done at the highest of government levels.

In light of everything going on in the Middle East, I think everyone should read that book, if nothing more than to consider how much you would risk for truth. How far might you go to face down a “Goliath” that wields so much power. If your foundation is truth, you may get knocked down, but you’ll have the resolve to stand back up, again and again.

Post Meeting Thoughts

I liked the soft-spoken teaching delivery of the sermon and it seems that this church is grounded on scripture and teaching that scripture. Most everyone carried a well-read Bible with them to church. With my belief in gay rights, I take strong issue with one comment made during the sermon, but what I’ve learned over these 40 weeks now is that I can easily worship alongside others who don’t hold all my same beliefs. I look for where we can agree on subject matter and practice, and let the rest go. We do it every day in politics. Why can’t we do that in religion?

What’s Next?

Hindu! In fact, I’m headed to BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir later today with my Muslim friend. How’s that for getting most all the major religious experiences in on one day? Next week I’ll be in Houston for a wedding and only 2.5 miles from Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church. Hopefully, I’ll have time to check out that mega of all MEGA churches.

Covenant Baptist Church – (Contemplative Christian Community)

photo 1-23   Sunday #39 – Covenant Baptist Church, (a Contemplative Christian Community) 19204 RM 2252, Garden Ridge, TX

 

Why this church?

I’d planned to go to one of San Antonio’s many mission churches today, but I wanted to go with a friend from Monterrey, Mexico; she was out of town this weekend, so we postponed.

Instead, I chose to go to a church recommended by my good friend David Russell from  Amarillo, Texas, who when he first heard of my journey to 50 churches, strongly recommended this one. While I’d already attended Trinity Baptist Church earlier in the journey, the subtitle of this church as a “contemplative Christian” church piqued my interest. I had no idea what that meant or what to expect. So I’ll just jump right into the service.

Arrival

photo 2-23  I do believe every single person at this church came up to introduce him or herself to me. I forgot to count how many people were in attendance, but my guess was about 30-35. This congregation is a “come as you are” bunch wearing everything from jeans and flip fops to dresses.

photo 3-20   As I walked into the meeting room, it immediately took me back to the Quaker service I attended – lots of earthiness with stone and rough wood. In fact, the idyllic setting reminded me of something you might find in Colorado. A simple wooden cross hung over the fireplace filled with small flickering candles.

To signal the start of the service, a man stood next to the electronic keyboard and rung a hand bell several times. Then someone came to a single music stand and stood in front of a microphone for the Welcome and then the Call to Worship. We stood for the first hymn from an actual hymnal – not some words off a projection screen! The prayer of confession followed the hymn, then we sat for the second hymn.

After a call to praise, where the congregation repeated a few words of thanksgiving, we sang another hymn. Then I experienced something new: Children’s Time on the Blanket. This consisted of someone coming to the front, taking a blanket from a quilt rack and unfolding it near the front for the kids to sit on for their story time. These kids were precious, bringing up their offerings to help a young orphaned boy and then later to have their own mini-communion and story time.

Once the kids had departed for their service in back, a single guitar player played the Song of Petition, followed by the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.

The Message

As I sat in the purple molded chair listening to Kyndall, the young female pastor, recite the scripture reading from Philippians 2:1-15, I marveled at the way the church had mixed many of the East traditions with the West – like silent meditations and an onsite labyrinth with traditional hymns.

photo 2-24

The sermon consisted of something you might find in a silent Quaker church where scripture is read several times and the congregation participates by closing their eyes and allowing the words to speak personally to them, then writing down the word or phrase that touches them. I think this is where the “contemplation” word originates because instead of an hour of religious entertainment, this church encourages participation with the text.

Following that, we had one more hymn to sing and then had communion that consisted of us lining up to receive the body and blood of Christ in the form of real, gluten-free bread dipped in grape juice.

Then the offering followed with wooden plates passed from person to person.

Finally, the pastor came to the front with a small book and called for prayers and blessings. As different people shared concerns and need for prayer, the pastor faithfully wrote each in her book. Somehow, I just got the feeling of the deliberate nature of this act – that the pastor would be lifting these concerns to God throughout the week. Then we were asked to take one of the  concerns mentioned that spoke especially to us and pray for them or the situation.

Post Meeting Thoughts

Ever once in a while, I come across one of these rare church gems – a place where everyone is glad to be and delighted that someone new has arrived – a place where the ritual doesn’t get in the way of the overall message – a place where peacefulness overrides entertainment. This is one of those places.

After church, I walked down the five-minute wooded path to the labyrinth the church had built on their vast property. I understand that several years ago, the Sunday School children placed all the rocks at the labyrinth by hand. It’s an eleven-circuit labyrinth that is used as a place of contemplative prayer and is open to everyone in the community. It truly is a special place.

photo 4-15    photo 5-6

What’s Next?

Now back to the regularly scheduled program. Hopefully next week, I’ll be at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower and completely lost at one of the Spanish only services.

Northside Church of Christ

photo 2-21

Sunday #38 – Northside Church of Christ, 19818 Hwy 281 North, San Antonio, TX

Why this church?

I put this denomination off for a good while because thoughts of worshipping in a church that uses no musical instruments didn’t exactly thrill me. Yes, all the music is sung Acappella.

With that said, the faith always held some curiosity, especially since one of my college sorority sisters, Debra Maffett went to a Church of Christ church and also had a great voice. Later, her talent, along with her great body, personality and looks enabled her to win the 1983 Miss America crown. I always wondered whether growing up in a church without musical instruments would make you a better singer. After today, I see how it could..

Arrival

Can’t say enough about signage. I knew about where this church was located, but being set off the road a bit, I wasn’t quite sure where to turn. While clipping along Highway 281 North, I missed the turn. Looping back around is not an easy task, so I immediately wished the church had provided more signage along the highway. Signs are there at the entrance, but visitors are on it before having a chance to turn.

Once inside the church campus, visitors will find many entrances. I wound up coming to the handicapped parking and parked near that area, then couldn’t decide where I should enter. Fortunately, two people walking by guided me in.

The building has a similar set up (just on a smaller scale) to Oak Hills Church – lots of meeting areas, great places for the kids to play and lots of people milling about. I found the worship center pretty quickly and watched kids as they reached for their favorite cloth “busy bag” on a wooden tree just outside the sanctuary doors. What a cool idea! Kids sure liked it.

photo 1-21

Then, I went to the restroom. I mention that only because as I entered the restroom, the church service had just begun. How did I know that? –Because the church pipes the auditorium sound into the restrooms. Cool idea number two!

Service Begins

Once finished washing my hands, I walked into the large center while the “2-Minute Warming” was going on. During this aptly named time, people left their seats to shake hands, greet visitors and tell everyone around them hello. Another cool idea! How many creative ideas can one church come up with?

After the 2-Minute Warming, everyone stayed standing while the music appeared on the two large overhead screens. I’ve seen this disposal of hymn books for overhead projection of songs at many churches, but it’s usually just the words that appear – never the scored music. That really helped — at least for those of us who read music.

As I looked around the congregation, I noticed the attire to be wide spread, from jeans to three-piece suits. The racial makeup was equally broad, with many African Americans singing, along with Hispanics in the crowd of small children to the elderly and everything in between.

For the second and third songs, we were asked to sit.

<<Love this church already!>>

What’s neat about their approach to music is that different people in the congregation hold microphones and sing the various bass, soprano and alto parts, so it’s easy to follow the music. And, the congregants all sing. I kind of enjoyed being in a service where the congregation doesn’t just stand there humming while a band sings atop their own worldly stage. In this church, everyone sings and it sounds GOOD!

http://youtu.be/3QWQqKUkFG8

As I sat for the next song, I gazed at the simple design of the building that included a single wooden cross that hung over the baptismal font. When the song ended, we were then led in prayer.

photo-30

Lord’s Supper and My Great Gluttony Faux Pas

One thing I like that many church websites to do is to include a “What to Expect” page. I read this one first, but one important little tidbit had been left out. As the deacons passed out the “bread” from row to row, I took the brass plate from the woman a few seats down from me and grabbed a rectangle of what tasted like stale Styrofoam, leaving two pieces in the tray, then I passed the bread on to the person at my left, I saw her pick up the cracker and break off a small piece, then put it in her mouth.

Guess I was supposed to break the bread instead of taking a whole piece. <oooops>

Then, we continued to sing while the deacons passed out the wine — in grape juice form.

Service Continues

By the time we get to the next song (can’t even remember the number of songs we sung), I’m really into the music sans instruments. During “How Great is God,” the leader had all the basses stand to start the song, then a call for anyone singing soprano to stand, then altos. It truly was a great song, sung in an unusual way that put everyone in the mood for the message.

The Message

Visiting pastor Jack Evans, Jr. of Fort Worth, TX gave the message. As the author of “What’s Love Got to do with it?” and “Trouble in the Hood” ambled to the stage in a dark, three-pieced suit, I figured quickly that we were all in for a gospel delivery treat.

Evans, who had recently been to Jamaica and become enamored with the accent, spoke on the topic “No problem, Mon.” He started by saying that even the atheist needs God, then launched into the story about an atheist man who denied God most of his life. One day the Atheist was out enjoying the woods when a bear came out of nowhere and started after him. The atheist climbed higher and higher in the tree while the bear stood below. As the man reached the top of the tree waiting for the bear to start his ascent, he cried out to the Lord and said, “I know I haven’t believed in you God, but I do now. Please save me. Please make this bear a Christian bear, God.” Suddenly, the bear crossed his paws in front of him and started growling the words: Heavenly Father, thank you for the meal I’m about to receive.

Preaching from below the Lucite lectern centered on the stage, Evans rolled from one biblical story to the next – all in illustration of the fact that with God “it’s no problem, mon.” He first talked about Hezikiah, then Elijah, Elisha, Shaddrach, Meshach and Abednego then ended with the story of Jonah and the whale. Throughout his lively delivery and prompts for more audience participation, Evans quoted memorized scripture after scripture and at one point I thought he might completely recite one of the lesser-known books of the Bible from memory. His memory was just that good, and even better than the pastor I’d heard while visiting the Pentecostal Hope Center Church.

He ended by leading into the altar call where we stood and sang.

Finally after a few brief announcements, the Shepherd’s Prayer was said for those grieving, then we all had a special musical treat from a group of summer touring Southwestern Christian University students who sung the parting song.

Post Meeting Thoughts

Sometimes churches surprise me and this one sure did. Not only with all the unique and creative ideas found within, but also how I enjoyed the music and felt while everyone sang. An Acapella service is one that should definitely be tried. I think you’d even be amazed – though I’m still wondering how the Wedding March is sung in Church of Christ weddings. By the way, I just learned that Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” – created for Shakespeare’s “Mid Summer Night’s Dream” – was first used for Queen Victoria’s oldest child’s wedding in 1858.

What’s Next?

Happened to drive by a beautiful building after the Baha’i Faith meeting a few weeks ago. It’s a church that had been on my list, though I didn’t quite know its location. When I started this journey, I was told that I should take in one of the mission churches around San Antonio. Then, I happen to run across it. Not two days later, I visited a new hairdresser and she mentioned she (by accident) went to the Spanish service instead of the English version at Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower. That settled it; even though I’d already attended St. Mary Cathedral in Austin earlier in the year, I’ve yet to take in an all-Spanish service. Let’s see if my four years of college Spanish will help me have anything to say next week. May be a photo-filled blog! photos!