Saint Therese Church of the Little Flower Spanish service
I’ve come to a pretty grim conclusion over the last few years doing this column: Religious services are the most segregated area of society in the United States. I feel a little creepy just typing the words, and I know what the emails are going to be like, but I defy anyone to prove me wrong.
There are, of course, exceptions, but if I go to a black church, it’s going to be 95 percent black people; a Korean church, Korean people; Latino church, Latino people; white church, white people. It’s not like all kinds of people aren’t welcome to all kinds of churches, but it’s a de facto segregation. I understand the reasons. Churches are little communities made up of extended families, and there are cultural differences that cause certain people to go to certain churches, but it’s a damned shame that no one has ever created a religious tourism in Reno because the diversity of individual churches and religious experience is so rich that greater understanding and tolerance is the first thing a person learns.
And I know this to be—if not a fact, at least informed opinion because that’s exactly what Hunter and I have gotten out of our sampling of Reno spiritual gatherings.
Take Saturday night, for example. We attended the 7 p.m. Spanish language service at the Saint Therese Church of the Little Flower. We arrived a bit early and were surprised at the density of the cars in the parking lot.
We were greeted as we entered the sanctuary with a hearty, “Bienvenido,” from a dozen or so boys who were stationed at the entrance to welcome people in. I’m not sure whether something special was going on, but there were children and families everywhere. And I mean everywhere. I’ve never seen so many preteens in church. The 60-person or so children’s choir was singing when we sat down. It was beautiful, heartwarming, and by the time the service began there were about 600 people in the sanctuary to enjoy it.
The church was decorated for Lent with traditional purples and dark violets, rich-looking fabrics draped over the cross and altar and a few of the paintings around the sanctuary. (I was told when I was a schoolchild that this is to remind us that soldiers wrapped Jesus in purple before they crucified him, and Lent is the time leading to Easter.)
Children led much of the service with red-robed altar boys starting the procession to begin proceedings, children even read the readings, which included Joshua 5:9-12; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21. The Gospel reading was Luke 15:1-3, 11-31. The Luke reading is the story of the prodigal son, which is essentially about how parents continue to love a child even though he screws up. They even love him just as much as they love the child who never wavered.
The priest, who I believe was Father Honesto Agustin, though I have never met him, called all the children to the chancel for the sermon. He asked them some questions, and while my Spanish is far from fluent, I was able to gather he was telling them about the traditions surrounding Lent. He talked about the cross, the nails, the crown of thorns, and told them about the 40 days of Lent. “Why did Jesus die on the cross? For us.” And then he stood two boys up and used them to illustrate the story of the prodigal son to their mortification and the pleasure of the congregation.
Now, here’s the bottom line for me: This was a richer cultural experience than I experienced in La Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. This was an unexpected and beautiful yet foreign experience within my own community.