Encounters with Faith
by Tammy Townsend Denny, TI Executive Director
Before you begin reading this reflection, I would like to acknowledge that the words that follow might make you uncomfortable. What I am sharing here might not align with your beliefs. And that’s OK! There is space for your deeply held faith as much as there is room for the experience I recently had. I invite you to read to the end of this reflection with an open heart and an open mind.
This past Sunday I had an opportunity to attend services at Travis Park Church in downtown San Antonio, Texas. The church, affiliated with the Rio Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, is known for its “unconditional love and justice in action.”
I went to Travis Park Church not to gawk or judge or condemn but rather to fully experience our Christian faith in another way.
I admit I would not have voluntarily walked in the doors of Travis Park Church if it had not been for an assignment in the “Introduction to Ecclesiology” course that I am taking this semester as part of my Master of Divinity program. I may have dismissed the church as a place for other people but not for me.
However, as part of the work for my ecclesiology class, we were asked to attend a church that is not part of our faith practice. The purpose of the assignment was to explore where Christian faith traditions converge and diverge. The professor prepared us for these visits with specific instructions. We were to be respectful. We were not to be voyeurs or religious “tourists.” Instead, he challenged us to have an encounter with the experience.
What I saw, what I felt, what I encountered when I attended services at Travis Park Church ranks as one of the most profound spiritual experiences I have ever had.
I entered the church with an open heart and open mind, walking in side-by-side with people in need who did not have homes. I sang hymns with LGBTQ couples. I witnessed a female pastor prepare communion and invite everyone to the table. I celebrated God’s love with multi-generational families of all shapes, sizes, and colors.
I was moved to tears by the joyous presence of love and acceptance.
The experience reminded me of an interview with Richard "Mac" McKinney, a United States Marine who served in Afghanistan and is the subject of the short film “Stranger at the Gate.” The film tells the story of Mac’s rage-filled return from Afghanistan and his plans to bomb an Islamic center in his Indiana hometown. His plans changed when he came “face to face with the community of Afghan refugees and others of Muslim faith.” They welcomed him and offered him love, the kind of love I witnessed at Travis Park Church.
We read in Matthew 25:35, “I was a stranger and you invited me in…” But, what do those words really mean to us? Are we willing to welcome the stranger and to be the stranger?
This week I invite you to ponder the “strangers” in your life. What encounters are you willing to have with those who look, act, and believe differently than you?