50 Churches in 2014 — Now Complete

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 5.08.23 PM   Final Sunday #50 – Celebration Circle – an inclusive, multi-faith community with a creative approach to spirituality. San Antonio Garden Center, 3310 N. New Braunfels Ave

(NOTE: Services in 2015 will be held at Say Si, 1518 S. Alamo

Why this church?

Two reasons for choosing this church: 1) It was recommended by a librarian at the library I frequent, 2) Why not choose a church that has the word “celebration” in it for the final church of the 50 I visited in 2014?

This is truly a celebration, as I had doubts that I could find 50 different churches to visit around San Antonio. As it turns out, I still have a few that I didn’t get to, such as:

  • An Orthodox Jewish service
  • A Zorastrian church – could only find one in Dallas (too far)
  • A Sikh service – ran out of time
  • Church of God
  • Jainism – heard about this one at the Hindu Temple; apparently this group believes so strongly that one should not kill another living thing that they often cover their mouths so they don’t breath in any organisms. Gotta check that out some day.
  • Taoist Church
  • And, one of those churches that uses rattlesnakes in their services; I understand those are only found in Kentucky; I wasn’t in that state this year
  • Church on stilts – this one is in Austin and held some intrigue, but I never made it over

I think I pretty well covered everything else.


Well, you didn’t think I would arrive early are on time for the last one did you? Absolutely not! I decided to get in a session of morning yoga before heading out and I misjudged how long it would take me. I zipped down Hwy 281 like a bat out of hell and fortunately there weren’t many cars or traffic officers on the road.

I walked into a room at the Garden Center and a woman immediately handed me a piece of cardboard with a bulletin on top and a gold piece of paper. I thought perhaps it was a nametag, but I resisted the urge to let everyone know who I was. Good thing! This last service at the Garden Center was called the “Burning Bowl” service. I’d need that piece of paper a bit later.

Everyone stood as a few musicians sang at the angle of the room.

Instead of a drum set, I saw bongo drums and other instruments that I was too far away to see. Not many open chairs remained, so I thought I’d have to sit on the stage behind the sea of chairs but suddenly spotted an open spot. We then stood while a woman said a prayer. I noted in the prayer that she prayed for our “two-legged,” “three-legged,” and “four-legged” friends. I thought that was a bit odd until I noted later in the service that a dog was present. In fact it was a “service dog” in training. Don’t know why that sign on the side of the dog almost sent me into a fit of laughter. Shouldn’t every church have a “service dog?” You betchya!

Service in Progress

After the prayer, we sat down on cushioned chairs as the band played on. I noted a lot of children, as well as people ranging from their 20s to 60s. I saw one man sporting a ponytail, women in long dresses, a smattering of jeans and boots, as well as experienced a strong whiff of incense. With this group, it appears most everything goes as far as attire.

When the song ended, a woman came to the music stand to read a poem called “The Choice” by Danna Faulds. After that came a section of the service most would consider the Communion, but this group calls this portion of the service, “Food for Thought.” Before breaking the homemade bread and passing it to each person in rows of chairs, the person leading this portion mentioned that we should all focus on the oneness of being and that we are all connected. I must say, as far as Communion goes, this was the best bread served bar none. It wasn’t just bread but raisin cinnamon bread freshly baked. YUM!

After the “Food for Thought” came the Children’s Circle. All the kids came up, save the one two-year old who came up and quickly darted for a plastic yellow pitcher of water sitting on a low window sill. He was determined to get to that water. He grabbed the top and pulled it off before his father could reach him. The dad took him back to the group for the blessing of children where we jointly stated: “We love you. We see you. We recognize the light in you.” And then, small tot wonder darted away again toward the water. Finally, his father picked him up and carted him to he back of the room with the toddler yelling, “No. No. No. No.” Gotta love two year olds — so mentally and physically focused.

We were then enlightened by the announcements, specifically about the change of Celebration Circle venue for all of 2015. A woman then came up for one more song and was comfortable photo 1-28enough with the group to stop the song mid-stream when she realized it wasn’t being played at the right tempo. While she sang, a community sign-up sheet was passed around so people could volunteer for all the tasks that need to be done on the following Sundays and during the week. After that, I took the time to look at the bulletin. These guys like to be connected. You can sign up for the email alerts by texting a code to someone, comment on their Facebook page, visit on Pinterest, Google+ or their MeetUp group, see what’s going on through their website or even scan this QR code with a Smart phone to sign up for the e-newsletter.

The Message

Rudi Harst, the leader of Celebration Circle started with a story about a monk who decided to leave India because he couldn’t do anything right. His guru or religious leader asked him to do one thing before he left. He was given a basket and told to go to the river to get the religious leader some water. Four times, the monk returned with an empty basket because the water had drained out on his way back. Dejected, the monk apologized, but the guru or religious leader said, “Great. The basket is now cleaned. Please sit on your cushion.”

That story led to Rudi’s point that we must be open to receive God’s blessings. From the beginning, Rudi talked about the upcoming Burning Bowl section of the service that included a meditation followed by us writing down what we needed to release in 2015.Rudi was quite honest, saying that today he would be writing down the same thing he wrote down last year, and probably the year before that and the year before that. Laughter of recognition reverberated around the room. He then stated that the baggage we carry is a gift, not garbage, and we need to be with our “basket” just the way it is. We have a chance in every moment to leave our resistance to change behind. So, we should write what we burn in the bowl in the form of dropping the resistance to being who we really are.

Thenphoto 2-27, while we wrote, a man played a Didgeridoo from the front of the room. I do believe this was the first time I’ve ever heard the haunting sounds of a didgeridoo and it was awesome! Following that, the band came up to play “Into the Fire,” as we began lining up to hold the pieces of paper over a candle and dropping the burning notes into the large bowl.

I absolutely loved this song and couldn’t take my eyes off of the young woman who sang the song in a jazz like fashion. She had a voice unlike one I’ve ever heard. I’m frustrated that I couldn’t make my camera phone work at that point. I’ve never seen anyone sing barefooted before who was so comfortable in her own skin and music that it just filled every inch of her up. She used her hands to express the deep feeling she felt in singing the song. Truly amazing.

Then we joined hands in a circle around the room, sang their parting song (which I did not know) and were dismissed.

Post Thoughts

I’d come back in a heartbeat just to hear that voice again. I wish I could fill my soul with a passion for something the way this woman has a passion for song. I’d say that this group encapsulates some of the Buddhist teachings. They also meet at the Quaker Friend’s Meeting House on Wednesday for meditation, but you’ll also see a lot of Church of Religious Science leanings with a good portion of Universal Unitarian thrown in. Celebration Circle is definitely in a class of its own and I’m so happy I had the chance to see what it was all about.

What’s Next in 2015?

Everyone has been asking me this question. Half way through this journey, I thought I might try to read all the major religious texts. I even started on several. I read the Qur’an. I’m halfway through “A Course in Miracles.” (I know that’s not necessarily a religious text, but is one everyone should read and study.) I also read a children’s book based on the Hindu religion. Yet, in the end I decided this wasn’t something I could blog about.

I also considered doing a year of Sunday School visits. I was so impressed by the Sunday School session I attended at University Presbyterian in San Antonio, that I wondered if other churches put on the same comprehensive studies as they did. However, I decided that with all the travel I planned for 2015 that might be problem, as well.

Here’s what I have decided to do.

As I think about the past year, I’d like to continue with a few more blog posts that wrap up the SteepleStretch insights around subjects of particular interests to churches, like offerings, sermons, greetings, and such. I also have one funny blog post that I’d like to write immediately that I wish existed for churches – sort of a Fandango for church services.

In 2015, I will have two focuses and will be blogging about those, but not posting until the end of the year. My personal focus will be on what I call “Transform in 12 Months.” You’ll hear more about that likely at the end of 2015 and I’m truly amazed at how God puts you at the right place at the right time. Today’s service was a celebration of the 2014 SteepleStretch journey and laid out what I need to do in 2015.

The last focus will be on reading as many books from the “1001 Books You Need to Read Before You Die” list. My kids have the most wonderful conversations about all the books they’ve read during their time in the International Baccalaureate program and in college. I don’t think any of the three kids ever agree on any one book, so it’s interesting conversation to listen to. Unfortunately, I can’t join the conversation, because I’ve not read the books. This year, I’ll try.

My son Alex said that if I compelted 50 books per year, that it would take me 20 years to finish all 1001 books – that may be longer than I have. So, I’ll just focus on one per week and see where that takes me. I may post these blogs as I finish each book.

A SteepleStretch Retrospect

This has been the most insightful journey I’ve ever traversed. I now feel completely at ease to walk into any church, in any city, any where in the country and feel completely at home worshipping God. I better understand different cultures and appreciate them. I now understand the practices of those who worship differently than I do and can embrace their choice to do so. That’s what it is all about folks.

I’m honored by all the comments you’ve made on the blogs throughout the year; many of those comments enlightened my visits even further. Thank you for sharing this journey with me. I hope you have come away with insights that will bless you on your own journey of worship and oneness.