My second congregational visit was at The Rock Church, which is a Christian church. My first impression of the church was the massive size and I did notice that they had a donation center which I can imagen is where they collect food or necessary item to help the less fortunate. Walking into the main entrance I noticed the beautiful and clean architecture as well as the spacious quad area where there was a type of youth group taking place before the service. I also saw a map where the church was split into various buildings according to age group and events. For example, the was the A building that were for kids which I figured would serve as a day care or a type of youth group.
I am not religious as it is and the fact that I was excited for the visit was unusual for me and I did not feel as much as an outsider as I expected. When I walked through the door for the 9am service I was not greeted but the mass started off with Christian songs for about twenty minutes. In my opinion when I walked in to find a seat no one seemed to notice and continued listening to the singers and singling along and within 10 minutes of listening to everyone sing along I got overwhelmingly emotional. The room where the service was taking place looked like a school auditorium and surprisingly the walls were plain and there was live recording to the entire mass on a projector on the stage during musical performance and while the pastors were speaking. Over all the service was very interactive and the members seemed to be spiritually in tune and enjoy the service.
For my second congregation visit, I visited the Hope Center which is a local pentecostal church. This visit was incredibly eye-opening to me in terms of understanding how different groups experience and practice religion. Previously I had only experienced religious practices that I would classify as calm, introspective, and reserved. The service at the Hope Center was anything but. The service began with a high volume gospel style choir singing, and as the songs continued people began to cry out randomly, speak in tongues, and weep. It was incredibly emotional all around and the emotion in the room just continued to rise into the main sermon. By the end, I was incredibly overwhelmed and exhausted. My experience here made me very conscious of how differently people can experience religion. From what I understood, the congregation felt such strong emotional responses to the religious rituals being conducted, that they felt called to cry out and express the emotions they felt in response to the service. In a way it seemed like a very pure, whole experience of religion, where the congregants truly felt their religion and what the believed with incredible strength. Observing the service was an incredible experience, because I felt I actually, finally understood the impact religion has on people and their emotions
This week I visited the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. If I am going to be honest, I was very unsure of what the experience was going to be like. I decided to visit the Kingdom Hall because I have family members who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. I wanted to experience something they consider so important. I was greeted by many friendly people at the church. They all wanted to get to know me and were very interested in my presence. I am guessing this is because they do not get newcomers very often. I thought that they would be offended that I was using their service for a project, however, they were thrilled that I was taking the time to learn about their religion. One of the women even let me share her phone to look at the Bible verses. The actual service was unlike anything I had ever been to. It was extremely structured and planned out. In addition, there was a lot of audience involvement. It almost felt like a lecture at a university. It was very interesting to see the kind of responses people gave to questions asked by the congregation leaders. I am used to being asked if I agree/disagree with something in classes. However, in this setting, there was no room for opinions, it was expected that you agreed. Overall, I really appreciated the welcoming treatment that I received at the Kingdom Hall. Although the Jehovah’s Witnesses have fundamentally different beliefs than I do, I can still say that it was a very rewarding and interesting experience.
For Monday’s class, I read From a Community of Believers to an Islam of the Heart: “Conspicuous” Symbols, Muslim Practices, and the Privatization of Religion in France by Caitlin Killian. The read was fascinating, as I have been studying French for four years and the political and religious climate has been a topic of few discussions. Historically, France has been a country of revolution; citizens do not often appreciate all-powerful rulers, both on this Earth and in Spirit. France was the heart of the Enlightenment. Salons gathered brilliant philosophical minds from all over to discuss the deepest secrets of the universe. With this history in mind, it makes perfect sense why the French are so opposed to the public display of religion. However, it is important to not judge the decision of the French through an American lense.
In America, the banning of religious symbolism would seem a ridiculous notion. We view religious freedom as the government staying out of religion. However, in France, the view is different. Freedom of religion is closer aligned to freedom from religion. By banning religious symbolism, the French maintain a neutral French identity where no one is being encroached upon by religion. Keeping in mind France’s catholic past, this makes perfect sense. The Catholic Church was at a time very corrupt and fueled by financial gain. This did not sit well with French citizens. To avoid Church rule in the future, the french people culturally decided to keep religion in the private sphere and out of the public sphere. Thus, to have a French cultural identity, one should keep religion in that private sphere. This helps an American to understand why half of the Muslim women interviewed agreed with the Hijab ban. They agree that to have a French cultural identity, which was more important to them that having a Muslim identity, that sacrifice had to be made.
This ban would seem awful through an American lense, but it is important to understand the culture in which this was happening.
In his article Ritual, Symbol, and Experience: Understanding Catholic Worker House Masses, James Spickard breaks down the weekly house masses at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker commune. I found it compelling that in this article, Spickard took the time to point out the differences between how male priests and female celebrants led the mass. While priests followed the standard liturgy (with a slight Worker twist), female celebrants were more likely to cite readings outside of Scripture and incorporate the congregants in priestly duties, effectively eliminating the traditional Catholic hierarchy during the mass.
This concept of gender affecting religious leadership caught my attention because it was reminiscent of the religious leaders I have encountered during my two congregation visits. For the first assignment, I visited Redlands United Church of Christ (RUCC), at which Rev. Dr. Jill A. Kirchner-Rose served as senior minister. While she held perhaps the foremost title at the congregation, Rev. Jill only led two small parts of the service– she didn’t even lead the sermon, though this was due to a guest preacher (another female). It is also worth noting that neither of these women referred to biblical stories as the basis for their overarching message.
The second congregation I visited was The Door Fellowship Church, where the service was led by Pastor Rich Cox. Pastor Rich led the majority of the service, only stepping aside at the beginning when a young man sang the opening songs, and when a couple other young men recited short prayers throughout. In fact, it appeared as though all leadership positions were occupied by men. Pastor Rich directly referenced and even quoted the Bible in his sermon, constantly including Jesus and the Lord by name.
Because the two congregations appeared to have vastly different worldviews, I failed to consider the role of gender in religious leadership before reading Spickard’s article. I don’t think it is possible to easily extract the role of gender when posed across denominations, but I find it interesting that it could play such a large role in the structure of religious services.
Last week’s discussion on the different stories of religion and how religion is developing was really interesting to analyze. In particular, I was interested in the concept of the individual religious bricolage in the narrative, Is Religion Becoming More Individualized? I think this is a really interesting concept because of the different degrees to which people may adhere to this definition. For example, within my own family, my mother identifies as Catholic, however, she loves to study Buddhism and incorporate Buddhist values into her daily living (I even bought her Thich Nhat Hahn’s Teachings on Love for her birthday this year). However, when I ask my mother about her religious identity, she does not include Buddhism in her definition, instead she says she is Catholic in beliefs but not strongly connected to the institution of the Catholic church. This is an example of the individual religious bricolage because my mother has redefined what she considers to be Catholic in terms of her own experiences and preferences.
Furthermore, it is interesting to consider how different individuals have incorporated this concept of the religious bricolage within the diverse sections of Christianity. For example, during my two congregation visits, I have found different members who identify with different churches, despite identifying themselves singularly within a single church. This is also evident in my jigsaw reading by Ammerman, which highlighted the different levels of religiosity by two families. In this example, one family attended one church service, took part in community events of another, and took advantage of the childcare at another. In this sense, the family has created their own religious bricolage within the singular modem of Christianity. Ultimately, it has been really interesting to consider the degrees at which we can apply the concept of the individual religious bricolage, which, in some instances, is quite extreme, while in others is simply an expression of the complexity within a single religion.
This week I conducted my religious specialist interview. It was fascinating to talk to a religious leader who I had watched lead a service that previous Sunday. I had made some assumptions based on the service and it was interesting to see what I was right/ wrong about by asking questions that prompted explanations. Through the interview, it also became apparent that there are so many things about a congregation that cannot be uncovered only from observation. Even if I had attended service every Sunday for a long period of time, there are some things that you could only learn through conducting an interview/ asking questions. After completing and then reviewing the interview, I noticed that my more specific questions prompted longer and better responses. If I could change anything about the interview, I would come prepared with more specific questions and less broad questions. I also realized that after I asked a few of my questions, I followed with giving examples of how they could answer. Although my intention was helping them to understand what I meant by my question, this is probably not the best practice because I could be affecting how they answer the question. Overall, I think this was a really helpful glimpse into the research process and into some important things that need to be considered throughout.
Something I found interesting last week was when we talked about the different stories people can tell and how the difference of religious and non religious acts pair up with cultural desires and consequences. Having different levels of faith through people in the church make it so different people need diefferent things to have a good relationship with God. Having different levels of trust in God in a church is actually good because some people can talk to people with less knowledge or more knowledge depending on what is needed for that person.
Something else interestint to me was the fact that having less religion in an area makes it less religious. You always here stories about a small town in Iowa or Nebraska where everyone knows each other and goes to the same school, church, and other events growing up . I feel like this would have more people at it then other places with multiple church locations. It is interesting to see how it is very true that the less choices you have make it so you go less. Seeinsg those same people all the time its like they are unavoidable anywhere you go weither thats at church or just the grocery store. Being blessed to be in an area where religion has many choices gives me that freedom to choose which congregation has the best interests for my personal self.
The street in London was also something that was weird but cool at the same time. Who would place every differenet religious place right next to each other but essentially it makes sense because you can walk from the mormon side to the christian to the catholic side just like that. It seems like something that wouldnt happen in America but is very intruiging to me and I was wondering what others thought about that street?
On Monday State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz used Jesus in her prayer 13 times before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives swore in its first female Muslim member. Many saw this as a political stunt, and some are quoted saying “we need to be promoting inclusion, not division.” Johnson-Harrell is also quoted saying “But to use Jesus as a weapon is not OK.” I have never supported the integration of church and state, but I understand why some support it. However, I have to agree that using prayer as a way to make a point is going a bit too far. Now in terms of using it as a “weapon” is a bit dramatic and too pointed, creating the feeling of hypocrisy. Now my first reaction after listening to the pray was my eyes glazing over and my jaw hitting the table. After a minute or two I rewatched the prayer and the first thing that I noticed was the face of the speaker and some of the other members in the camera shot they looked shocked and as if they wanted it to just be over. When she implies that we need to start rethinking our laws and how we need to refocus them towards Christian standards because “we have forgotten about you God” it is laughable and completely out of line for the situation. She also implies that the U.S has become corrupted and needs the help of God to “heal our land” and to justify our wrongs. State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz was completely out of line in using prayer as a political too and her lack of respect towards the new member of the House of Representatives.
In addition to continuing our jigsaw readings, on Thursday we read half of a chapter that Professor Spickard wrote himself. Although group pairing is fun; getting to discuss one reading as a class is enjoyable too. Finding the six stories that support how religion is viewed and practiced in the 21st century continues to be ever-changing. It was helpful how the Professor individually took each story and applied separate stories and sources for them all. First was the obvious tale of disappearing religion, which is the common discussion in today’s age due to pluralism, privatization, etc. Next was the notion that religion is anti-modern, which sounds like another off-shoot of disappearing religion; but, has different cultural trends that set it apart.
Third, is the argument that religion is individualized. The discussion of personal religious bricolage—meaning forming your own religious experience out of many different things. Fourth, the idea that religious places are a place of community. This highlights the cultural desires that we as people crave community and together-ness; and it’s the reason why an institutionalized church setting still exists. Fifth, the notion that religion responds to its market. This one stood out, to me, because of the differing markets around the world, not just America. Every country has their “religious market” structured differently, so it can take a lifetime of studying to come up with a figure of how “consumers” would “buy” various beliefs. Lastly is the idea that religion is going global, a worldwide movement of people stating their religion is not only a faith—but also their identity.