Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament
My first experience with Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church came on Christmas eve 2008. I had been to many a Catholic Mass in my day and did not expect this experience to be any different. I had known the presiding priest, the Rev. Andre McGrath for some time. He offered a heartfelt and intelligent interpretation of scripture and had a knack for articulating the deeper meaning, which is why I chose to attend Our Lady on this Christmas Eve. Then the service started…
I expected a Catholic Mass: stand, kneel, sit, kneel, stand…you know, a solemn, but uneventful Mass. But this was no ordinary Mass. It was alive. Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament has preserved the integrity of the Mass—the liturgy and ritual—but replaced the medieval European culture with elements that more authentically embodies her parishioners.
Our Lady sits on the corner of Buena Vista and North Pierre in Allendale. So, most of her parishioners are African-American. Under the guidance of Fr. McGrath they have crafted a Mass that reflects their culture. The music is revival-esque, which is a nice change of pace. If you have ever been to a Catholic Mass, then you know it can become somewhat monotonous. The infusion of African-American gospel makes for an interesting contrast. There is motion and stillness, rhythm and silence. This contrast leaves you feeling like you have one foot in this world and one foot in the other.
Fr. McGrath, who belongs to the Franciscan order, spent a great deal of time in Kenya. He was the Rector of the Tangaza College in Nairobi. There he helped found a sect of the Franciscan order known as the Lyke Community. The Lyke Community is a Catholic congregation of priests and brothers inspired by the Holy Spirit to live together and observe the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ. Like all Franciscan communities, they follow the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi. Kenyan brothers are regularly coming to visit Fr. Francis Kamau, who is now the priest at St. Mary of the Pines and a co-founder of the Lyke Order, and Fr. McGrath at Our Lady, which adds a great deal of perspective and depth to the Mass experience. I had the great privilege, on Christmas Eve 2008, to hear a visiting priest from Kenya speak about the redemptive power of suffering and the gift of life.
If you are looking for a unique community that offers both depth and inspiration, then you must try Our Lady. You may find that it is not for you, but you will most certainly cherish the experience and be glad you attended.
Taize is a religious community located in France. In the beginning it was mostly comprised of Brother Roger, the founder of the Taize community, and refuges from the world war. However, it grew into a thriving religious community in the wake of World War II. The Taize community in France and the work of Brother Roger have had a deep impact on the renewal of Christian spirituality, an impact recognized by the likes of Pope John Paul the II and Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. The most powerful and far reaching effect of their work can be felt even here in Shreveport, LA.
Like a resounding echo, the unique form of worship cultivated in Taize reverberates all over the world. This is their great contribution to Christian spirituality. The First Presbyterian Church on Jordan hosts a Taize service on the first Friday of the month at 5:30 pm. What makes this form of worship unique? Well, like the Mass at Our Lady, Taize worship creates an interesting contrast between silence and rhythm. But it invites the practitioner into this relationship between motion and rest, precisely because it is more of a practice. A Taize service utilizes short, rhythmic songs that are in simple in nature. The music is serene and the lyrics are almost mantric, leading you down a spiral staircase deep into interior silence.
No matter where in the world you are, this form of worship is truly unique. But especially here in the Shreveport/ Bossier area, where there is little in the way of contemplative spirituality, Taize sticks out like a sore thumb. Instead of a homily you get a rich period of silence. This period of silent prayer is situated at the center of the service. I would venture to guess that there is no other church within a hundred miles that would substitute the sermon for 15 minutes of silence, even though the 46th Psalm suggests that this stillness will bring us closer to God than any sermon ever could.
St. George’s Episcopal Church
I enjoy a contemplative environment. In fact, it is at the core of a religious life, in my opinion. But, I enjoy a good sermon. I love to be intellectually stimulated.
St. Georges Episcopal Church on Airline drive in Bossier City is the home to Fr. Jamie Flowers. The Rev’d Flowers has a resounding voice and loves to sing—and will be heard singing from start to finish in the processional and recessional hymns. But make no mistake about it, Rev’d Flowers is not the musical centerpiece at St. Georges. Maestro Kermit Poling is the Music Director of both the South Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and the Shreveport Metropolitan Ballet. He is the Associate Conductor, and was Concert Master of the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra for 27 years. And he just so happens to play the organ at St. Georges.
But enough about music. Like I said, I love to be intellectually stimulated as well, which is why St. Georges is on my list. Yes the music is amazing, but I go for the sermon, and the Rev’d Jamie Flowers knows how to give a sermon. There are three things that I think contribute to a good sermon:
Father Flowers strikes each one of these chords. He never just skims the surface. First of all, the selected readings are often more obscure and difficult to understand. Second, he steps right past the obvious implications and assumed meaning and into the deeper, more transformational dimension of scripture. This leads me to the next “D,” discomfort. The transformational dimension of scripture usually brings us into an uncomfortable truth. It often challenges, not just our preconceived ideas about the world we live in, but the way we actually live. But to get to this deeper level of lived scripture, you have to have a good delivery. You have to know when to tell a joke or a funny story. You have to know how to interweave examples from your personal life. You have to know how to start and when to finish. Father Flowers, week in and week out, opens the Bible and invites his congregants to enter it with him, bringing them through uncomfortable territory into renewal and transformation, which is why St. Georges offers such an enriching experience.
I have attended Mass at Holy Trinity only once and was not very fond of it. However, Holy Trinity is not on my list because of the services it offers. Holy Trinity is on my list because of Holy Trinity itself. Occasionally, every two weeks to be precise, I have to head over to North Shreveport for work. On my way, I stop by Holy Trinity for morning prayer. It is hard to walk into a space, so ornate and majestic, and not immediately feel awakened. When I walk into a basketball gym I think and feel basketball—I get excited and want to shoot around. When I walk into Holy Trinity I can feel the presence of sanctity—not outside of me, in the walls, art, or statues—but deep within me. The frescoes, stained glass, statues, and Romanesque architecture awaken spirit of wakefulness within me. The majesty of this church speaks to me on a level that words simply cannot.
5 minutes of silent prayer in this church can awaken in you what 300 books could not.