Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Congregational Spotlight: Travis Park United Methodist Church in San Antonio, Texas

As noted before in this blog, in the modern era, many non-believers have unfortunately come to view Christianity as a subcomponent of conservative politics and to simply equate the faith with political stances against legalized abortion, same sex marriage and taxes. Such a view of the faith tremendously distorts the message and ministry of Jesus Christ, and is one of the motivations for this blog. As a result, I would like to spend some time in this blog focusing on more positive examples of the church in order to provide a more balanced and a more accurate view of the faith. In that vein, I am beginning an occasional series of posts that I will call “Congregational Spotlight.”

It is probably helpful to note that I personally do not necessarily agree with or endorse 100% of the things espoused by the leaders of each of these spotlighted congregations. Contrary to popular misconception, Christ followers are not a homogenous group. Heck, even my husband and I do not see eye to eye on every topic. God made each of us to be unique with our own perspectives. Consequently, I do not think it is necessary to agree on every detail to spotlight a particular congregation.

The first congregation I would like to spotlight is Travis Park United Methodist Church (TPUMC) in San Antonio, Texas. When our family is in San Antonio visiting relatives, TPUMC is the church we typically attend. Our children enthusiastically refer to it as the “cookie church” because at the end of the service, volunteers are in the hallway with trays of cookies that they offer to people as they leave the church building. This is one the highlights of my gourmand kiddos’ day! I admit the cookies are pretty tasty, but that is hardly the reason I wanted to spotlight this particular congregation.

TPUMC was founded in 1846, which is ancient in Texas terms. (Texas became a state in the union in 1845.) TPUMC is located in downtown San Antonio in a lovely old building amongst well-appointed hotels like the St. Anthony and the Menger. It is close to the tourist revelry of the River Walk. The church also sits cattycorner to Travis Park, a public park that is home to a number of the city’s homeless population. For this reason, the church has long had a robust ministry to the homeless. Its Corazon Ministries program is the umbrella for its homeless ministry programs. (In Spanish, the word "corazon" means "heart.")

TPUMC states it is “grounded in history and vision” and its people “seek to live and love as God does: passionately and unconditionally.” The church also believes that “God calls us on a journey forward, to break down the walls of prejudice, and to embrace all our brothers and sisters.” As a result, the church’s motto is “We serve and learn with brothers and sisters from all walks of life: rich and poor, housed and homeless, gay and straight, black and brown and white, secular and sacred, PhD and GED.” That diversity is evident when we attend the 11 a.m. “celebration” service. There are conservatively-dressed older white folks, young people in hip jeans, biracial families, same sex couples, and tired-looking people in tattered clothing. The 11 a.m. jazz band and choir are a composite of very talented folks from different backgrounds. Their music really energizes the diverse congregation.

One of the most moving bible studies my husband and I have ever attended was an adult Sunday school class at TPUMC, which was attended by a number of homeless folks. It is hard to know for sure, but beyond the pastor who faciliated the class and his assistant, my husband and I might have been the only attendees who were not homeless. A couple of the other attendees frankly slept through the class, presumably due to a rough night with no place comfortable to sleep for an extended period. But the (many) others were very engaged in the pastor’s morning lesson. Many of them had brought their own bibles to consult during the lesson. My husband and I were pretty quiet during the class, but the other attendees answered the pastor’s doctrinal questions knowledgeably and responded to his more open-ended questions with moving, personal testimonies of their faith. They gave us a lot of food for thought. They also taught us powerful lessons about judging people without even listening to them and discounting a person’s insights due to their exterior appearance. It was very humbling.

A link to TPUMC’s website is provided below. If you have occasion to visit San Antonio, I encourage you to visit the “cookie church.”


Matthew 22:37-40

He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

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