What one reporter left Redwood Baptist Church with

Early morning Sundays are quiet times in San Marcos, Texas.

The student body of Texas State University usually remains locked away until after noon, and you can pretend for a moment you aren’t in a college town (if you ignore the sprawl of bars and trendy fast food establishments). On this particular Sunday in June, I glide through the local traffic towards the Redwood neighborhood, because for the first time in a few years, I’m going to church.

Deadlines, sources: these things compel a journalist into situations they would otherwise avoid. I’ve been doing my best to pretend to be one for awhile now, so it’s about time I got outside my comfort zone.

VoiceBox Media is covering poverty in San Marcos. As a storyteller for the project, it’s important to immerse myself in our subject matter. With that in mind, I step out of my truck in the gravel parking lot of the Redwood Baptist Church. A nondescript chapel stares back at me. I’ve passed a thousand of them in my lifetime: small, local churches with modest steeples. Things look so much bigger, though, when you step out of your car to investigate them.

The Redwood Baptist Church serves the Redwood community in San Marcos, Texas. Photo by Jesse Louden/VoiceBox Media

The Redwood Baptist Church serves the Redwood community in San Marcos, Texas. Photo by Jesse Louden/VoiceBox Media

I’m on a mission to speak with a pastor. Stepping past the threshold, I enter a tight hallway that smells faintly of bread. An empty office to my right tells me that he has begun the service, and a smiling cook in a back room encourages me to take part. I thank him, and approach the closed door from which a hymn is creeping through.

All eyes on me when I enter, but only for a moment. The turnout is small, and everyone seems to know each other, yet as a volunteer hands me a pamphlet, I recognize that I am welcome here. The men and women are seated as I make my way to a pew. I find this extremely convenient, as I do not know the words to their song.

The massive Baptist congregations I remember as a child were as impressive as they were detached. You could blend in, immerse yourself in the crowd and even play video games on your mother’s Palm Pilot (as I was well aware).

The intimacy within this church is new to me.

Brother Robert makes eye contact with me while giving his sermon, and I am able to pick out the different people around me based on their preferred manner of affirmation (a quick “That’s right” or a confident “Amen”).

Once communion begins, volunteers are quick to include me in both the body and the blood of Christ. Brother Robert then encourages members to approach the altar for a group prayer. I sit quietly, observing it all, waiting patiently for my chance to make contact with the pastor. As I glance around at the modest décor, I wonder what all the other churches I’d passed in my life had to offer.

Were they all so inclusive? Could they all have been like this? How many experiences like this have I drifted past?

The service ends. I wonder how I might approach Brother Robert, but he immediately approaches me. We talk shop briefly, exchange phone numbers to arrange an interview and I thank him for his time.

Walking back to the door, I feel lighter than when I entered. No epiphanies have occurred and I have not been called back to the faith, but my humility feels restored. I smile at the people who smile at me while I’m leaving, but I must refuse the cook who encourages me to have a bite to eat as I pass him in the hallway. I am a tourist here, and I can’t justify taking anything from them but the experience.

{To read more about the Redwood Baptist Church’s work in San Marcos, read our story.}

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *