By Mark Wingfield
In San Antonio, Texas, the façade of the historic San Fernando Cathedral has become the backdrop for a public art installation. A 24-minute video projection with music depicts the history of San Antonio by drawing and redrawing paintings on the face of the cathedral.
The 7,000-square-foot stone front comes to life with moving images, a vast palette of colors and a sort of modern impressionism in style. Viewers see the emerging geological formation of the region, the early peoples living there, the historical discovery and settlement of San Antonio, and then historical events including the Battle of the Alamo and the great flood of 1921.
This cathedral is a suitable backdrop not only because of its stone façade and the fact that it faces a plaza with plenty of room for viewers, but because parts of the church date to 1738 and 1750, making it the oldest cathedral in the state of Texas. In 1836, the cathedral was a parish church and was where Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna raised a red flag of “no quarter” from the church’s tower, marking the beginning of the Battle of the Alamo. One of the heroes of the Alamo, Jim Bowie, was married in this church in 1831. His remains, and those of other Alamo patriots, are said to be contained in a memorial located inside the cathedral.
And so to project images of the history of San Antonio on this sacred and ancient building is to bring history full circle. This is, indeed, a living history.
As I recently stood on the plaza watching this light show, I wondered how well our own churches would bear the history of their cities. In what ways does my church reflect the history of my city? If the light of history were shined upon us, what would be seen? What would “stick” and what would fade away?
Just a few nights later, I sat in a Wednesday evening class at my church, engaging in a discussion on the role of women in ministry. Someone asked the most interesting question, one I never had pondered before: “What would be different today if this church had not determined in 1991 to ordain women as deacons and as ministers?”
My immediate answer was to think of the ripple effects that would not have happened in other congregations in our city — both those that received members from us because they didn’t like the change in practice and those that have been encouraged toward openness by our witness. And then the person leading the class that night, one of our female pastoral residents, shone a new light on the question: “For one thing,” she said, “I would not be here today.”
Similar questions might be asked on a variety of topics: “What if our church had not … .” Or, “What if our church had … .” Or consider also, “How does our church reflect the story of God’s love as it has been known in our community?”
In the light of your city’s history, what does your congregation reflect?