An open letter to the seekers of spirituality in San Antonio Texas.
I read sometime ago that worship happens the moment a person opens their eyes. In the case of Sunday worship every action, every motion is in preparation to worship God. In fact even the commitment to participate in readying oneself for worship was in and of itself part of the liturgy.
The knock came to the bedroom door. It was my friend. I had stayed in his home last night. He lives in San Antonio, one hour and thirty one minutes south of Marble Falls where I am parked with my Airstream. I have known him and his wife since 1976. We go back a ways, have experienced similar understandings. We recognize how certain issues are not as important to many of the churches we have been a part of. His wife recently died. During the years we have known each other they were always there for me. I wanted to be there for him and in a silent way for her as well. We got in his car with him and drove to the sanctuary to join in worship.
When we arrived the sanctuary was dark with a few small lights on. A man was up front lighting what seemed like 100 or more small candles. We visited for a moment. The sound man was there. He told my friend he had been there since 4:30 and was it ever hot. Sweat was pouring from his forehead. Others began to come in and said hi pastor. He smiled and greeted everyone by their first name. He then proudly turned and said I want to introduce you to my friend. I was greeted with smiles, a conversation, like I was a coming home soldier. I was welcome.
Just as quickly another member of the lay staff came and joined my friend in putting his robe on. They were scurrying around looking for what was needed for the Sunrise service. There would be three services this day. It is Easter, it is Resurrection Sunday. This would be a church that attempted to balance liturgy and spirit. The music was carefully planned, the musicians were trusted to allow the music to declare the message, the prayers would echo the dignity of the God they were prayed to.
We met outside the front door. The church was downtown San Antonio. The sky was dark, clouds overhead misted the ground and eventually each of us with a gentle spray. Candles would be lit as each of us joined in some singing and the Scriptures were read. The Easter event was played out for us as people read parts and the empty grave was revealed. Where was Jesus? He appeared in their midst. We were reminded of His presence with us. We entered the sanctuary culminating our moment of Easter sunrise, we declared our faith and were encouraged by words from the pastors and the readings.
In a few moments we would go together to a large room where we were joined by hundreds of homeless people. Every Sunday people were invited to meet for food, medical care, showers if need be, tables to visit and another table….a table to tell your story with paints. The walls were filled with these paintings. One picture after another, colors, images, words all declaring life on the street yet a message of hope prevailed. Then a man sat at the piano. His clothing was scruffy. His glasses held together with duct tape began to play an older grand piano. His song: Here I Am Lord.
While he played, I softly sang (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6fYAiqV-Bs) He played song after song, each song was simple to remember, each song touched a memory for me.
As I walked around a man came to me and said let me help you, you look lost. He then gave me a tour of all the activities. Along the way he salted his words with his life story. He had broken his back and it never seemed to heal. He had been in and out of hospital, not able to keep his job. Ultimately he ended on the street. As he talked I looked at so many coming, young and old, male, female, each going to a different station seeking help.
Then I turned myself to the second worship service. As I entered the sanctuary a young lady was at the organ. The size of the organ filled the front of the church. The sound of the organ filled the sanctuary. The music, classic Easter music, seemed to ring out as it was being played. The words echoed through my mind. The service included an opportunity for communion. The pastor reminded us of the tradition of having “baptisms” on Easter. During the baptism the pastors joined together spoke of the need for a caring and committed congregation. The message pulled us toward the power of resurrection, He is risen! YES, YES, YES we too join in this. We are enabled to rise above the things that defeat us, we can rise above the hurts and needs of those around us, we are risen unto life. The service, powerfully inspiring with each of us knowing this was not a sermon just being preached, it was an invitation to be that message outside of these doors.
A break happened as people were invited to attend the Sunday School. The group I joined reflected on the reality of the Lenten Week. It was a time to look at the mask we live with. What was being revealed to us each time the mask came off. There was a gentle spirit of grace inviting us to leave the mask off. My mind began to make an application to myself. I thought of the darkness and the call coming from the darkness. Do not be afraid to face the darkness. Do not be afraid to walk into the darkness, to confront the darkness. Do not be afraid to be free.
The third worship service began after a time for coffee and cookies.
I walked into the sanctuary. Clapping echoed throughout the sanctuary. Singing was timely, the Easter message prevailed. I heard laughter by people who just seemed to feel good. Then unsolicited I caught myself clapping and laughing as well. As the worship continued a trumpet player introduced the choral entry, the singing began, then tapered off. As the choir was about to end a phrase the sound of a saxophone entered the sanctuary. The sound was electrifying as it seemed to permeate the walls. People began to move with the music. Some stood and gently waved their arms, one person allowed the music to carry his body in dance, the keyboard, the drums, the kettle, the guitar all chimed in with an accuracy that allowed the sound to declare the message of worship. Words coming from the soul, a depth that only God could understand in the purest form.
Throughout the worship each song, each hymn, each prayer choreographed not in word but in spirit. Each member of the congregation knew they belonged to an event. They were participants, they were worshiping. There words, their spirit added to congregational leaders in a unison of worship and celebration. Then as in each of the previous services the admonition was expressed, go now and live this celebration. YES, YES, YES.
All to often these days there are people who will say I am seeking spirituality but don’t want religion. Travis Park United Methodist Church a religious organization celebrating spirituality.