St. Mark’s Episcopal Church kicked of its concert series in Travis Park during Lent.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church kicks off its concert series in Travis Park during Lent. Credit: Courtesy / Eric Nelson, St. Mark's Episcopal Church

Downtown workers used to enjoy a San Antonio institution, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church’s Lenten Luncheons, which began in 1951. Alas, the beloved Chicken a la King, shrimp salad, Pioneer biscuits, and strawberry shortcake succumbed in 2014 to a dearth of downtown companies, changing palates, or perhaps both.

A fresh take on Lenten outreach began Wednesday in Travis Park, across Pecan Street from the historic church whose cornerstone was placed by Robert E. Lee and at whose altar former President Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson were married. A series of casual noontime concerts, titled Music in the Park, will continue every Wednesday through April 5. Everyone is welcome to complimentary soup and biscuits served in the churchyard.

About 40 church members, office workers, street people, and park police officers took their soup to tables in Travis Park and heard Rev. Matt Wise, associate rector at St. Mark’s, perform classic covers. Songs by John Prine, Robert Earl Keen, Walt Wilkins, Slaid Cleaves, and some of his other favorites were on the bill. It seemed as natural as delivering sermons for the young priest to belt out songs “that challenge us to think differently.” In a story-telling tone, he wove the songs in with words about the Lenten theme of self-renewal.

“Lent isn’t intended to be a depressing time, but a time to focus on things we could have [done] differently with the purpose of amending our lives,” he said after singing the Prine classic Angel from Montgomery:

“Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go.”

As Wise sang and spoke, traffic moved, horns honked, commerce continued, all oblivious to the urban island of grace. And that was part of what made it so authentic and good.

The free concerts will continue on Wednesday with organ music in the church by St. Mark’s organist/choirmaster Joe Causby. Others scheduled to date are The Rick Cavender Band, Albert Steves and members of Mothership, and Len Briley & Friends.

Disclosure: Nancy Cook-Monroe is a member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. 

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Nancy Cook-Monroe

Nancy Cook-Monroe is a local freelance writer and public relations consultant. She has written about San Antonio arts and civic scenes since she could hold a pencil.