Friday #48 – Baruch HaShem Messianic Congregation – NEW LOCATION: 16320 Heubner Road, San Antonio
Why this church/synagogue?
When I began this journey, I knew I’d attend one Jewish service, but instead, I discovered many from which to choose. I first went to Congregation Agudas Achim (Conservative Jewish) then, I attended a Temple Beth-El (Reformed Jewish). From there, I learned about Orthodox Judaism (haven’t been to one of those services) and even others, such as Baruch HaShem Messianic Congregation. Also, a friend from where I grew up (Cindy Bostwick) told me I should check out this movement.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around this congregation. Messianic means “of the Messiah.” So this congregation, while worshiping in typical Jewish style with observance of the Torah at services and speaking and singing in Hebrew, this congregation blends Judaism with Evangelical Christianity. During this service, I felt like I was worshipping in a Jewish synagogue, but had the feeling of having one foot in a Pentecostal Church, like the one I attended at Hope Center Church and the other foot in Greater Love Missionary Baptist church (an African American church) I’d visited in San Antonio.
Even though I thought I was running late, I actually arrived a few minutes after 7 p.m. and then realized the service started at 7:15 p.m. Phewww. As I entered a side door, people began greeting me with the words “Shabbat Shalom” and “welcome.” I immediately felt at home.
As I sat down, I noticed that men all wore yamikas and some women had covered heads. The crowd ran the gamut in dress, from jeans and tennis shoes to dresses and headscarves. What immediately struck me was the representation of all nationalities – blacks, whites and Hispanics from every generation.
As the service started, the Cantor came to the wide lectern and began reading from Psalms 1. To the left of him sat a small table that held two candles. From there, he led us all in a prayer. Still standing, a woman walked from the cushioned chairs to the table and covered her head in a shawl like cloth. I didn’t understand this particular tradition, but she lit the candles, then passed her hands over the flames and then put her hands to her forehead and with a bowed head said a prayer.
Then, the Cantor welcomed everyone to the Shabbat service. The Rabbi came to the front and said that the Torah table was not set up and the reason was that the Torah had not been brought into the building. Apparently earlier in the day, Palestinian protestors had targeted the building, and the group had circled the building in a march. The Rabbi assured us that we were all safe and that the building was well guarded.
What? This is San Antonio not Israel or New York City or even Ferguson, Missouri. I’m not a fearful person, but for some reason, thoughts swirled and I finally had to shake them off.
Then, we stood to sing from the words that appeared on a large overhead screen This congregation also does a lot of clapping after each song and even during the pieces. After that song we moved into another reading and then were told that we would face Jerusalem for this particular prayer. We all turned to our right and then everyone covered their eyes with a hand and bowed their heads. I peeked through my fingers to see when to uncover my eyes, but this lasted a while.
We remained standing for the next song and I then noticed that this group does a little bend and bow with certain words of different songs. Not sure what that is all about, but obviously done out of respect. Just don’t know the meaning, unfortunately. We remained standing for the Chamocha. No, I don’t know what that means, but, I found it fascinating that this group could easily go from English to Hebrew to Spanish in the same song. Then we stood for the Aleinu – nope, I don’t know what that means either.
We stood for another song and the Cantor faced the screen. I noticed that small children chattered somewhere behind me, and the noise created an atmosphere of happiness and family. Then, we sat for the Haftarah reading and once again, I don’t know what that means either. I began to feel that worshiping in a Jewish service is much like worshiping at the Baps Shri Swaminarayan Mandir – Hebrew words and saying made about as much sense to me as did Hindu. Then we had another reading – the brit hachadasha.
Finally, (at this point I thought it was over, because it was about an hour long), the Rabbi gave a few announcements that this was the last Shabbat service in this building. They had sold and bought another building within one hour. Trinity Title who conducted the transaction said that they’ve never seen a congregation so blessed. The new building at 16320 Heubner (a former Lutheran church had previously owned it but could not meet its monthly obligation on the building), would be located in the heart of the Jewish community. I got the sense that there might be some hard feelings between the traditional traditional Jewish people and those who are Messianic. The rabbi then asked if there were any visitors. I slipped my hand up and someone came by with a card for me to fill out.
After those announcements, a six-member band played while congregants brought up their envelopes of money and dropped them into wicker baskets. At this same time, so many people came up to me during this time and welcomed me, including the Rabbi. No message had been given at that point, and I thought the service was over, but no, they were just gearing up for the second act.
As the band played women came to the front and danced a Davidic dance for several songs.
Then, several special guests performed. First, a viola player from South Texas, then a couple from Israel – one a recorded artist and the other I guess was a Rabbi. Rivka Whiten has a booming voice and a jovial way of talking to people. She talked about her life growing up as an Israeli in America and then returning to her homeland. At one point, she made everyone stand up, join hands and we all did a type of dance around the room. That was my closest experience to doing a Jewish dance. Kinda cool!
Then, Rivka’s husband gave the message. He talked about moving to Israel when the government was on strike and his wife being seven months pregnant. He said when the government of Israel goes on strike no one receives healthcare, so Rivka gave birth on their kitchen floor with a mid-wife after 35 hours of labor. OH MY! He also talked about his Israel news website being taken down by Islamist hackers and how they’ve had tires slashed, things burned in their yards and all sorts of things happen to them, yet they remained faithful to their mission.
Finally, after two and a half hours, the guest speaker gave an altar call. Wasn’t expecting that, but leaders met people at the front that wanted special prayers. This occurred while the band played on. Then, several tents were placed around the room and families joined under the tents for a special prayer. I stayed in my seat because I wasn’t sure if I was to go up there. Probably would be uncomfortable for someone new to this service, but after so many services, I’m completely comfortable being uncomfortable and I just took photos.
Oh and there was a breaking of the Challah bread and some wine, but I couldn’t tell if that had more Jewish or Christian context. Left me confused. And finally, a man on stage blew a sound through a curly horn and the 2.5 hour service was over.
Though I haven’t a foggy idea of what’s going on most of the time, I do enjoy worshiping with the Jewish people. They always seem to be a happy bunch – a lot of love for each other and a great deal of care and concern for their family. The whole thing with the protest bothers me and I suppose that’s why I feel this blog is so important for people to read. It seems there are as many ways to worship God as there are people. I believe that no one way is the right way so imposing our own views on others gets us nowhere. I have a profound wish for us all to live lives to the best of our ability and understanding. We don’t have to cut people’s heads off, protest or denigrate others to get them to believe as we do. Others will easily follow when they see that we live with joy and purposeful lives.
Sikh service, Celebration Circle or Church of God? I think I’ll just wake up tomorrow and see what develops. I’m down to only two more to get to 50. Like marathon running, it’s enjoyable when you just learn as you go and stay committed to just doing the work and showing up.