A family friend passed away a couple of week ago, and the family asked me to sing at the funeral this weekend. The song is a gospel track called “It’s OK” by Bebe and Cece Winans. I have been practicing it all week, and for some reason, I’m finding so much comfort within this song. Gospel music is deeply rooted in African-American tradition, and my grandma played it all the time as I grew up. My parents took me to a nondenominational Christian mega church as a child, so the only Christian music I heard was contemporary. I used to laugh at my grandma’s gospel music because it sounded so different to me. As an adult, I have heard it a lot less often, so I appreciated it whole lot more.
Although it isn’t very popular now, I was fascinated to hear that famous singers like Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Ariana Grande, and James Brown were all influenced by gospel music. The genre has made its mark on history and the American music industry. Gospel music has also influenced a lot of the music in churches today. When I went to visit the Pathway church a month ago, I recognized one of the songs that their worship team sang as one that my grandma would play in her kitchen. I have found comfort in this song as I’ve practiced it this week, so I hope the family members at the funeral find some comfort in it as well. I would also highly recommend you all to give the song a listen.
On Sunday, I visited the 10:45 am service at Pathway church. I was really nervous about stepping into a church again for the first time in 3 years, so I took my partner for some moral support. It was reassuring to walk in and feel welcome. Many people acknowledged us and tried to get to know us before the worship started. I definitely didn’t feel like the members were exclusive or judgmental. The worship was a lot like it was in my church growing up. It was a lot like a soft rock concert with loud drums and lots of lights.
The sermon was the most interesting part for me. Senior Pastor Dr. Jonathan Jarboe seemed almost like a celebrity at the church. When he got on stage to speak, it seemed like the whole church’s posture changed and they gave him their undivided attention. He frequently made jokes that were directly related to his personal life, so it seemed like the church members knew all about his life. He mentioned his children and where they are in life, and how proud he and his wife are to finally be empty-nesters.
The church really appeals to visitors. If the members don’t recognize you, they immediately come up and try to get to know you. Multiple times during the service, they stressed that we fill out the “Welcome Card” in the seat in front of us. They even said that if we take the filled-out card to the church’s coffee shop, we would get a free coffee drink and gift from Pathway. They really wanted us to take the “next step” and come to their Newcomers class. Ultimately, I felt very welcome, but I also felt like the church was desperate to add to their numbers.
My group and I did a case study on Konieczny’s book, The Spirit’s Tether: Family, Work, and Religion among American Catholics, and I was intrigued. I didn’t know much about Catholicism as I was growing up (all I knew was that they baptized babies and “worshiped” the Virgin Mary), so I took this as an opportunity to learn more about the religion itself. However, this book gave me two, very detailed, experiences at two very different Catholic churches.
When I read about the Our Lady of Assumption church, I didn’t understand how a Catholic church could be so strict. I always remembered my Catholic friends being allowed to do more than I was when I was younger, and their parents were always less strict. I always wanted to convert to Catholicism as a kid because it seemed more fun. But this church wasn’t what I thought a Catholic church would be like. They had bold opinions on abortion, there were gender roles, and there was a bit of a hierarchy. I was blown away when I read the stories of the people Konieczny interviewed.
The second church, Saint Brigitta, was interesting as well because it was very different from Assumption. It was definitely a lot more lax, and it seemed like the members enjoyed being members there. I thought it was crazy that they met in a gymnasium, compared to Assumption that met in a grand chapel with stain glass windows. I thought it was especially crazy that members of this church were pro-choice, and they weren’t reprimanded by the priest. Overall, I love how Konieczny wrote this book because she took two churches of the same religion in the same city, and showed how completely different they actually were.
During our class session on January 22, we watched a documentary called Separate Realities that documented the experiences of two individuals involved in churches in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. The woman that was interviewed belonged to an Episcopal church, and the man belonged to a Baptist church. I found it intriguing that their experiences were so different because those are both Christian denominations.
The woman felt that religion was more of a psychological experience and it was more personal. I remember her saying that the making of a spiritual life has to come from a “breaking of yourself”. There wasn’t an evangelical aspect of religion in her life. However, that was the complete opposite of the experience that the man in the Baptist church had. He was very loud and vocal about his religion, and he believed that “[God] saved us for a special reason…to tell about Christ.”
My life was very similar to that of the man in the Baptist church. I went to a non-denominational megachurch for about 14 years of my life, and we were always told the great mission was to be “great among the nations…and an offering of salvation to a world of broken hearts”. I have struggled with my identity because of this calling that I thought was my own for my entire life, so it is comforting to hear that there are other options than this. Hearing about the woman’s journey through the Episcopal church opened my eyes to new religious experiences. I enjoyed hearing both perspectives because they were very different.
Last week, we learned that religion can play a massively important role in society. In her first chapter, Meredith McGuire wrote about how, 50 years ago, sociologists looked for religion in churches, but now they are trying to define religion differently. According to sociologists, there are two types of religious definitions. There are: substantive definitions, which use a Western worldview and define more narrowly, and functional definitions, which define more broadly but may encapsulate more than was intended. In class, we learned that there are four aspects of religion that all shape one another: experience, image, story, and community.
On Monday, January 21st, our university is hosting an interesting religious experience, called Beyoncé Mass. “The worship service uses the music and life of Beyoncé as a tool to cultivate an empowering conversation about Black women — their lives, bodies, and voices — while creating an event with story, scripture, and song that calls for the liberation of all people.” I am excited to “experience” this event from a sociological perspective, specifically focusing on the human. This religious event is going to bring experience, image, story, AND community, and it is an unorthodox worship service being held in a highly religious town, so I expect the overall response to the event to be thought-provoking. It is super cool that our school is hosting this event because last year in San Francisco, it was a hit.
I would highly recommend attending the event. I think it will bring some interesting discussions to our course.