Patrick Cardwell, First Baptist member and 2014-2015 Seminary Intern, is spending his summer in Texas as an intern at Broadway Baptist Church. On his way to Fort Worth, he stopped in San Antonio where he wrote this reflection on vocation and ministry.
On my journey through the state of Texas to Fort Worth, my parents and I took a vacation detour through San Antonio. Confused and somewhat lost in what at first seems the maze of the Riverwalk, we followed its course to the Main Plaza, where I came face-to-face with a glorious structure. It was the San Fernando Cathedral. A quick search on the Internet reveals that the church, founded in 1731, is currently the oldest in the state of Texas, and is among the oldest continuously functioning churches in the nation. When the Spanish originally settled the area, they placed the church and the main governmental building at the center of the city. The church was at the heart of San Antonio’s original identity. Today, dozens of homeless and poor individuals gather in the Main Plaza, just outside the doors of San Fernando in the heat of the day. With only a few trees in the plaza, shade is limited, and sunlight is not. What is it about this place that draws the people to it? Certainly it wasn’t heat, or the accommodations, or the friendliness of strangers. I pondered this question for myself more than a few times as I explored San Antonio’s downtown area throughout the week. What was it about the cathedral that drew me in? There was an unmistakable sense of holy mystery surrounding a place that had seen centuries of human conflict and anguish, but also joy and harmony as well. And it was there, in that tension, that I found what attracted me. I was standing between this looming, historic cathedral, and the people who seemed to need help desperately. It was a space that expressed my calling as someone who has a passion to be a bridge between the people and the Church. Isn’t that the delightful, frustrating, energizing, draining, sun-filled, and shade-spattered work of ministry? To represent the people and the Church simultaneously to each other? It was a holy moment for me to be sure.
But I also think it was the fact that the church was at the very center of San Antonio. Now I know I might upset a few folks, especially Texans, when I say that I think the heartbeat of San Antonio can be heard from the towers of the San Fernando Cathedral, but I’m certain that’s what I heard while standing in front of it. Not only geographically, but also in the ways in which it continues to be palpable heartbeat – ecumenically, socially, and culturally – for the city. Several times per week, there is a dazzling light show displayed on the front of the cathedral itself. It’s a grand illustration of the history of San Antonio, reminding its people that they and the church are inseparable. There are also many ways in which the church strives to meet the needs of the homeless and poor who gather outside in the heat of the day, offering a cool place to rest, a drink of water, and financial assistance when available. Thousands of parishioners participate in Mass each week, remembering who and Whose they are. In all these ways, San Fernando continues to pump life into the city, beating to the rhythm of the people it knows so well. What would our cities look like if our churches were so connected to the people? I haven’t been in Texas for very long, but I’m already seeing ways in which I have room to grow and places where I continue to hear my calling. May our churches take note of how San Fernando, now nearly 300 years old, continues to remain not just relevant, but irreplaceable, in the heart of the city and in the hearts of its people. For a city that prides itself on the beauty of the Riverwalk, the 5-time NBA champion Spurs, and the Cradle of Texas Liberty at the Alamo, I know it’s a lot to say that the Cathedral rises above these. But from where I stand, it does. So maybe we need to remember San Fernando along with all the other famous locales of the City of Saint Anthony, asking ourselves about the divine mystery in our own lives, and taking a good look at where we’re standing.