Hill Country Church (PCA) is there, now, and they have made the building homey looking and welcoming, with a new bright sign and an invitation "Join Us" along with service times. Both are easily seen from the street, which I always appreciate.
I have to laugh at myself sometimes, though, for my occasional gaps in denominational knowledge. PCA does not, as I had imagined, mean Pentecostal Churches of America. I had gone to the service, expecting hats and white gloves and shouted aleluia's. Instead, I saw everything from blue jeans to nice blazers and cotton dresses. The "P," as it turns out, means Presbyterian.
So this is where some research comes in. According to PCAnet.org, Presbyterian Churches in America (PCA) was formed in protest of the more liberal changes that were occurring elsewhere in the denomination, holding to the rules about women in Church offices and the "inerrancy and authority of Scripture". Like the Lutherans, then, it appears the Presbyterians have synods, or divisions, based on strict (or more lenient) interpretations of the Bible.
Here is where it gets difficult. On that same site, they refer to certain "doctrines of grace," to include the following: (3) Particular atonement. God in His infinite mercy, in order to accomplish the planned redemption, sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to die as a substitute for the sins of a large but specific number of people, cf. Romans 8:29 and 30.
Wait... A specific number? That's something I will have to think about long and hard. It almost sounds like they believe that number will never change, that some people will always be lost. I already struggle with the idea that there are so many people who will never be "saved," and I read about an entire denomination that knows and accepts this.
But that isn't Hill Country, necessarily. It's just a peek into the denomination, and it gives me something to think about and study. Since gaining spiritual knowledge is one of my goals in writing this blog and making these visits, I can't very well complain when it happens.
Entering the church, I met smiles and warm welcomes from everyone I saw. There seemed to be more men in the service than women, which is a shift from what I've seen elsewhere. It may just be that I so seldom sit near anyone (or people so rarely sit by me after I've chosen my spot), that I noticed the ones closest to me more clearly. Pastor Lou Best welcomed me warmly, both personally after I sat down and again during the church announcements. This is a smaller church, seating what looked like maybe a hundred congregants (but may have been more). It felt comfortable and homey. The gentleman next to me helped me figure out which was the hymn book and which was the song book as we worked our way through the (blessedly detailed) order of service.
Here I will add: One thing I am growing to love about the more liturgical services is this tendency to outline everything they are going to do throughout the service. They explain the prayers of response, the verses we will say and sing, they outline page numbers and hymn numbers and what they believe about the Lord's Supper. Not every church welcomes the majority of people to participate in Communion, and it is very helpful to know whether and under what circumstances I am to take part. Some even show when to stand and when to sit, so I am not furtively watching my closest seatmates for their actions.
Pastor Best gave a terrific sermon. He moved smoothly through the Scripture, detailing meaning and thought. He brought in modern situations (Facebook as a public relations instrument) and tied that in with God's actions and Words. I should have taken better notes.
The associate pastor, Adam Viramontes, offered the Pastoral prayer and asked for specific congregational prayer requests. His prayer blended brief but specific words, demonstrating empathy and compassion, and was also spoken clearly enough so I could hear him easily from several rows back. He greeted me as service was ended, and I could see he loves this church family.
Hill Country is very fortunate to have both Pastors Best and Viramontes.
What made this visit special, aside from the fact that people really seemed to see me, was a hand-written note I received about a week afterwards.
Thank you for visiting and worshiping with us on Sunday. It is an honor to be at the middle of your 52-Sunday church journey! I'd be interested in hearing about this project and what you have discovered. As you could probably tell we are a mostly military congregation and deal with all the challenges that population brings. Please let us know if we can assist you in any way. When your "pilgrimage" is over you know where we are! Blessings in Christ, Lou Best."
I should note that I have started filling out the visitor cards with my name, address, email and a short comment about this church journey. I have received two emails before this, from different pastors, and both were friendly and interesting. I have made dear friends who are like family to me. I have been so incredibly blessed along this journey, and it's only a little over halfway done. I am not one to ask, "what next?" but I am looking so forward to hearing the answer.