7317 East Houston Road
Houston, Texas 77028
April 2004–When I mention the name or tell people that I am going to the Portico, they instantly want to inquire about the place, for the name compels them to wonder. I can easily analyze their puzzling expressions before they can even form the question: what is that? The definition of the word portico means a front porch with columns. The word is simple, but it holds some sort of mysteriousness; it seems sacred. Is it an exclusive organization, art exhibit, or dance club? I simply tell them, “It is the church service for the college ages and young adults, age eighteen to mid-thirties, at Lakewood Church every Thursday at 7:00 p.m. ” Their body language and response indicates that their inquisitive nature seems somewhat fulfilled. Most of them recognize the name Lakewood , for the inveterate “mega-church,” which has an enormous congregation with a broad range of ethnic backgrounds, was established in 1959 by John Osteen. The non-denominational church, which is well-known in the Houston area and around the world, will soon reside in the Compact Center as the international haven for Christians.
The cold nights are filled with emptiness, and the stars refuse to show themselves. Houston ’s interconnecting highways and old, haunted railroads on the North side seem coldly habitual and listless. Every few Thursdays, pillows of clouds, which paint the humid skies a dark and eerie color, pound the saturated, industrial landscape; for now, the rain dies down. Inevitably, I can feel my vocal cords wear out from this erratic climate as I sing along with the blasting, gospel music that radiates from my radio and speakers in the car. The songs along with my anticipation to hear the new teaching for the night and the opportunity to share fellowship with friends lift my spirits and fight the depression that oppressively looms over the city. Exiting off of North Wayside, I hit the back roads and arrive at the 55 acre “institution for spiritual enlightenment.”
Many 50 foot, iron poles housing cyan-colored lights reveal that the wet parking lot is nearly full. The church, which looks like a series of two-story complex buildings, partially surrounds the parking lot along with the trees, which brightly glows against the skies. It feels like a remote country side. I park my old, dependable Chevy into one of the well lit parking spaces in the back. Turning the car off, I extend my arm and reach for my army-camouflage slip covered Bible in the back seat of my car, in which scattered textbooks and a box of tissues also sits. I quickly shine my shoes with a leather sponge, slap a thin layer of balm on my dry lips, and grab a pen out of my backpack for notes and a stick of gum out of the ash tray. The world suddenly occupies my senses as the cool wind playfully bumps against my skin and my nose picks up the smell of rain. Cautiously splashing through the reflecting puddles and weaving in between cars, I am impeded by three young, Nigerian ladies, who are nicely dressed and carrying their Bibles in hand. Their laughter stimulates my ears as they freely chat amongst themselves; their jovial smiles contagiously influence mine. I politely greet them. Taking a deep breath, they cordially reply, “We are fine, and yourself?” Inquiring into each other’s life for a moment, our spirit of eagerness puts us at ease as we make a casual connection. I open the door for them at the entrance to the church.
As I step onto the dark marble floors, the atmosphere is suddenly airy. A Hispanic woman, who is dressed in a black uniform with a security guard patch on her right sleeve, stands erect and staidly places her eyes upon me and others who enter. The foyer, which connects to the corridor, gives off a dramatic, neo-classical flare intertwined with elegance. Low yet intense lighting shines from the brassy gold and embellished chandelier that hangs in the center from the high ceilings. The off-white walls are sharply laced with traditional, dark oak crown molding along the corners of the wall and over the Spanish double doors with many embedded rectangular dimples in the surface. On the other side, my reflection is cast in the mirror, which hangs above a table that is accompanied by armchairs on each side. A few young adults stand around in the foyer, either chatting in small groups or talking on cell phones. Others travel to and from the contemporary water fountains and restrooms farther down the corridors to the left. My ears are immediately drawn to the constant noise from the crowd just behind the open double doors in the main room, as I walk in its general direction. With each step, the intensity behind the dark room enhances my curiosity. As the energy heightens, a young Hispanic man, who stands in front of the door, firmly shakes my hand and gives me a compact and colorful flyer that shows upcoming events and has an empty space on the back for notes. Establishing sincere eye contact, he says, “Welcome to the Portico.”
The sound of hundreds of people mingling creates equilibrium as I step into the grand room. The orange-colored lights that are implanted in the high ceilings show the far end of the main room to my left, which is the coffeehouse. The patterns of whimsical, floral designs paint entire walls with dark and light creams. Off-white crown moldings powerfully overtake the ceilings and exude opulence; it equally divides the upper surfaces into large squares with the inscriptions of strong, circular craters that are embedded in each. Several chandeliers like the one in the foyer are the center pieces of these divisions. Besides that, the aroma of brewed coffee from Starbucks and prepared food such as the punchy wings from Wing Stop, the irresistibly seasoned seafood from Pappasitos, or other foods of well-known, quality restaurants from the coffeehouse settles in my nostrils. Behind the countertops and cloth-covered tables, humble workers are on guard, moving about and ready to serve the crowd that thirsts and hungers. A variety of ethnicities gather together and dine on the scattered plush couches and low, wooden table tops in the general area while others drink their tasty Frappucinos and steamy Lattes. The energy, which fills the room, engenders camaraderie amongst us. The beam lights that are connected to chrome bars over the black platform illuminate the stage from the far right side of the main room. Rows of generic seats surround the stage and extend to more than half of the room. As I search to find a seat in the front, the service opens up; a black man, who has short dreadlocks and wears pressed slacks and a t-shirt, gets up on stage and begins with prayer, followed by praise and worship as the Portico Band leads. Everyone in the room concludes their interactions and finds their seat accordingly, preparing up their hearts to be receptive. While the band plays and sings, the contemporary gospel music captivates everyone and enlightens our ears with beautiful, soul-shaking melodies from the blasting speakers that vibrate the colorful, floral carpet underneath us. It takes us through an emotional roller coaster, allowing us to show gratitude and honor for God. The group openly sings and shouts in awe; some clap, while others close their eyes and reach toward the heavens. The big screen monitors display the praise and worship team to those who are seated in the far back and in awkward areas of the room. They capture and convey the ambiance and mood that surrounds the room. After worship, Pastor Scott Crenshaw gets on stage to deliver the Word. The group of young adults laughs in unison as the charismatic Pastor uses his impressions to share his prepared message for the night. His emotionally intense and profound messages are down to earth and strongly relative, enlightening, and compelling to my life and the life of every other young adult.
After service, social camaraderie continues as the crowd travels back to the coffeehouse for more conversation for an hour and a half. People break out the board games such as Jenga, Pictionary, and Dominos, meet with friends and make new ones, share their faith and experiences with God to others, eat, and drink coffee. This modern-day Portico is modeled after Solomon’s Porch in the New Testament in the Holy Bible, which was a place next to the holy temple where all could gather, form relationships, and be touched.