A looming, black-clad figure wearing a cream-colored outfit with gold embellishments — known as a vestment — moved around the room, swinging a gold “censor” that released a foggy incense.
As two women and a man sang, a small group of worshippers stood in silence on a recent Wednesday evening at All Saints Russian Orthodox Church in an area known as the nave. Candles burned as the figure, Bishop Nikolai, made his way to each corner of the room, followed by the worshippers. The foggy incense is said to float to heaven like a sweet fragrance, Nikolai said.
After the bishop prayed over those who accepted communion and the church guests ate bread, he closed the service — referred to as the presanctified liturgy — with a prayer. The somber mood then shifted as a large, white dog darted into the room and warmly greeted the guests, and people began socializing and cracking jokes.
If All Saints, Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana (First Spanish Baptist Church) and the Thai Buddhist Temple-Las Vegas have one thing in common above anything else, it’s the way guests interact with one another.
In Nevada’s most diverse city, there’s also unseen diversity among places of worship in North Las Vegas.
Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana
When a Spanish-language service ended at Primera Iglesia on a recent Sunday evening, church attendees — including the children — greeted one another with kisses and hugs. They didn’t seem to leave out anyone in the room.
“I think it’s the culture of the church to be welcoming,” Pastor Juan M. Sclafani said after the service.
Attendees congregated in a large kitchen area, where the church was selling carne asada tacos, enchiladas, nachos, desserts and drinks, and lingered long after the service was over.
Although Sclafani preached in Spanish, he teaches in English on certain Sundays. He read from a large projector screen at the back of the room that displayed Bible verses. Attendees could follow along on two screens near the front of the room.
The church held nearly 400 people, most of whom were dressed casually for the evening service. The crowd was quiet during the service, and children were escorted to a playground. The service ended with a song from a small choir, followed by a prayer.
Thai Buddhist Temple-Las Vegas
The experience at the temple is much more intimate. The temple is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, and guests are welcome to come as they please. On any given day, they may encounter a group doing silent meditation or just an empty room. Most people attend between 10 a.m. and noon so they can meet with the monks — about five live there — who eat only once a day. Guests are asked to bring food so they can be blessed, although it is not required. Food is served every day, and attendees hang out in the kitchen area to socialize.
Chanting also takes place from 4-5 p.m. daily, during which guests read from a book of Buddhist chants, written in both Thai and English. You don’t have to be Buddhist to attend, visitor Arunee Price said.
“Anyone can meditate,” she said. “After meditation, (you can) pray to Buddha and God, or pray for whoever you believe in … you can believe in the sky.” Price, who goes by Annie, teaches meditation at the temple and has been attending for several years.
Su Chin, who has been a monk for five years, was inside the temple briefly on a recent Friday afternoon. He wore a burnt-orange outfit, glasses and no shoes and didn’t speak much, but he smiled often. He is from Thailand, near the capital of Bangkok.
At least 70 percent who attend the temple are from Thailand, while 20 percent are from Laos or another part of Southeast Asia, Price said. She is from Bangkok and has been living in Las Vegas since 1995.
Reminder of home
Price said the temple provides her with a piece of home because the traditions are the same.
Olga, who moved from Russia more than 20 years ago and declined to give her last name, said she feels the same way about All Saints Russian Orthodox Church.
“It’s just helped me to get myself to pray for my family, kids and parents who are in Russia,” she said. “When I’m sad, I come here.”
The Russian church holds a fourth century service in Russian or English, depending on the attendees, as a mix of people of different nationalities attend the church, Bishop Nikolai said. He’s from Montana and does not have a Russian background, but he speaks the language fluently and has been a bishop for more than 15 years. The church has about 70 members, he said.
The Hispanic Baptist church draws a predominantly Hispanic crowd, although a few people from other racial backgrounds were there on a recent Sunday. Pastor Sclafani said he moved the church from the east valley to North Las Vegas partly because the land was cheaper, and to attract the large Hispanic population. Sclafani said it is culturally uncommon for Hispanics to be Christian, rather than Catholic, but he added it’s even more uncommon for Hispanics to attend church at all.
All three places of worship had an essence of openness. And from the pastor, the monk and the bishop, the message was the same: “Everyone is welcome here.”
To reach North View reporter Kailyn Brown, call 702-387-5233 or email email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @KailynHype.
All Saints Russian Orthodox Church
Address: 5100 Smoke Ranch Road, Las Vegas, NV 89108
Established: About 5 years ago
Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana
Address: 3770 W. Washburn Road, North Las Vegas, NV 89031
Established: In 1978
Thai Buddhist Temple-Las Vegas
Address: 2959 W. Gowan Road, North Las Vegas, NV 89032
Established: About 25 years ago
I didn’t know what to expect at All Saints Russian Orthodox Church, so I brought a friend. I warned her that the service was traditional, dating to the fourth century, and that the bishop had told me it would be an “interesting experience.” Neither of us is of Russian descent.
It was hard to find the church; the only indication of it was a small sign that read “5100” on a fence that led to a dirt parking lot. The door to the church — which resembled a home — was open when we arrived. We followed the soft sound of singing, which led us to the service. A woman named Olga who was wearing a head scarf assisted us with where to stand and place our belongings.
The room was decorated elaborately, with at least 100 photos of icons, several candles and hanging lamps. A small wooden carving of Jesus on the cross stood near the front of the room.
I did not want to appear ignorant. Thankfully, Olga and another woman were helpful. At one point, the bishop motioned for everyone to bow to the ground several times. I had intended to go to the gym afterward but decided I had done enough for leg day.
I was not as nervous at Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana because I had attended Baptist churches. The service was in Spanish, so I observed what others did and pretended I knew what was being said.
Curiosity drew me to the Thai Buddhist Temple. I grew up in North Las Vegas, and my grandfather was a jokester and used to try to scare my cousins and me by saying a witch lived in the temple’s building. On a recent Friday, I drew up enough courage to visit. I was greeted by a kind woman named Arunee. We talked for nearly two hours, and she gave me a tour, taught me how to meditate and even introduced me to a monk.
Experiencing these churches of unfamiliar backgrounds humbly reminded me that religion doesn’t have a race or color. If you’re looking for the diversity in our community, your neighborhood church is a good place to look.