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Attended A Service Yesterday.


ContraBardus
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My sister had a baby recently. She's a Christian, sort of, neither her nor her husband actively attends church. Neither of them are very spiritual people. They do claim the beliefs, though I'm not sure either of them are really all that aware of what they are. I suspect they're closer to Agnostic than Christian, but just don't know it.

 

My Uncle is a Deacon, and we get along well. We usually don't talk about God. My family is mostly Republican, and politics talk stays light.

 

My sister pretty much had her daughter baptized for family reasons rather than belief I suspect. I'm not entirely sure, but they appear to be Christians by relation rather than practice.

 

As such, I attended the Baptism, and later attended a service that the rest of my family went to before dinner. The baptism itself was smaller and more private and separate from the service.

 

My family is Roman Catholic, with the exception of an Uncle who is Baptist, and another who wasn't able to come being a Mormon. I also have a Gay Uncle who often doesn't attend gatherings, though he does on occasion. He's not ostracized or shunned, and they try to make him feel welcome when he does show up, but he's also a bit standoffish. I get the feeling the rest of the family 'puts up with him' and I'm the one who ends up hanging out with him the most.

 

There does seem to be a mutual discomfort amongst them, but it's not based on any malice. It's more like they don't understand, and everyone knows it, but accepts it anyway. Even though they think what he's doing is wrong, and might mention it. No one would throw him out, try to hurt him, try to force him to stop, or exorcise 'demons' from him or anything.

 

They just pray for him, and if it comes up, they'll say they think it's a sin. I can tell he doesn't like it, but I've never known them to press the issue either.

 

My family is pretty close knit, and while sometimes a bit mean spirited in humor [well, usually actually], they are generally tolerant and welcoming. One of my cousins married a black man for example, and while her father isn't pleased with it he does accept it. He's a grandfather now, and treats his grandson like one of the family, and while he's not overly friendly with her husband, he does not try to make her husband feel unwelcome either. He hugs him in greeting and in parting, but it's somewhat unenthusiastic. He does seem to think the world of his grandson though.

 

Yeah, he's racist, but he tries not to be and has realized that my cousin is happy with him and is treated well. They're good people at the end of the day.

 

I'm one of the fortunate ones in that regard. While they don't like that I'm an Atheist, they aren't going to throw me out of the family or stop talking to me over it either.

 

As for the service, I stood in the back, seating was crowded, and several people needed seats more than I did. Didn't bother me a bit, though I could tell I was making the ushers uncomfortable just standing there. I did nothing to participate and just observed. They weren't friendly, but part of the service involves shaking hands and saying 'Peace be with you' to those around you. I shook a couple of hands and exchanged the greeting, and got rather limp and quick shakes in return.

 

It was odd though standing there. Not unfamiliar or strange really, but the rigidity of the ceremony struck me more than it had before. Seeing everyone sit, stand, and kneel all at once was a bit...well I'll call it jarring. It seemed almost involuntary, and robotic. Catholic services are not the most excitable. The music blows, and they're rather reserved and quiet about the whole affair. It's very formal and ritualized, as if acting out parts in a play.

 

When the collection baskets were passed around there was a shuffling of money that sounded almost like the fluttering of a flock of bird's wings. It was odd and something I'd never noticed before.

 

I also found myself thinking of arguments as the priest spoke in his homily. The readings didn't do that to me, because I'm familiar with the scripture, but the homily just had me thinking of rebuttals and errors. I didn't have any desire to say anything, but they were popping into my head regardless.

 

Such as the mention of a 'right to life' as if it's some sort of American Law or has some basis in the Constitution. There is no such 'right' mentioned in the Constitution. The 'Right to life' as explained by pro-life supporters doesn't exist, and never has. Not as a matter of a Constitutional right as they imply anyway.

 

I also noticed an indirect, but definitely noticeable underlying Republican undertone. During the blessing only Republican representatives were mentioned, though it was only a couple. They said 'politicians' but actually named a few Republican senators. The homily also contained a few pokes at the Republican ideals, and I don't just mean abortion. It was only mentioned in passing to begin with, but it was there.

 

It wasn't strange or anything, but I found myself noticing things that just seemed 'incorrect'. I knew about it, but it was never quite so obvious to me before for some reason.

 

Decorations that portrayed Paul as if he was one of the twelve, and other gaffs. Such as a statue of Mary as a twenty something woman holding her son's body after his execution. She looked like a teenager, seriously. There was also another large stained glass window that had Luke and Paul present at the execution and ascension.

 

Little exaggerations of the fantasy portrayed throughout the church in odd little errors in the artwork and some of what was said in the service.

 

Sure, I believe pretty much the whole of it is bunk, but it did strike me as odd that even the 'official' artwork would make such mistakes.

 

I also noticed the steady stream of people leaving before the end of the service. Once the Eucharist was handed out, there was a pretty steady stream of people walking out.

 

All and all, it didn't bother me, but it was a little odd being back and noticing things I'd never given a second thought to in the past. Especially the political undertones that are present.

 

I've been to a few services before, I sometimes attend with family for gatherings. They aren't trying to trick me or anything, it's usually a result of the family going together and me getting dragged along to attend something else either before or after because I'm riding with someone else.

 

However, there is a lot more politics inferred than I ever remember noticing while I was attending regularly. It varies how 'political' the message is. Largely on the topic the homily is about. Though it's never 'directly' brought up. It just really struck me that it was there, and I realized it has been for as long as I can remember.

 

I'm not sorry I went, nor am I glad I did. It was just something I put up with while hanging around with my family. Still, being an observer made it a bit more interesting and put a different perspective on the whole affair than I was used too.

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Interesting how our observations change once we aren't busy being caught up in all the hub-bub. I'm almost tempted to go back to my old church just to sit through a service and observe....problem being I can't do it incognito, and won't go as myself since I don't feel like coming out to a bunch of people I never see anywhere else. But part of me wants to just to see what I tended to overlook before.

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Interesting how our observations change once we aren't busy being caught up in all the hub-bub. I'm almost tempted to go back to my old church just to sit through a service and observe....problem being I can't do it incognito, and won't go as myself since I don't feel like coming out to a bunch of people I never see anywhere else. But part of me wants to just to see what I tended to overlook before.

 

Attend another church of the same denomination. Most churches will welcome observers provided they don't disrupt anything. Simply stating 'I'm just curious' or 'I wanted to see what your services are like/about' will usually be enough if anyone asks.

 

If you're inclined to go incognito, you probably know how to look like you belong. If not, just acting like a curious party who may [or may not] be interested is probably enough. The best seat for observation is in the back, standing in the back if it doesn't make you stand out too much.

 

It most likely won't be difficult to bow out a little early, or brush off speaking to anyone. Just stating you want to think about it and will consider coming back. They might give you some literature, but will let you be on your way. Churches don't like to appear unfriendly or forceful to curious parties. It's bad for business.

 

The best time to go is when a Church is filled to capacity if you want to get in and out without being noticed, or at least minimal hassle. Sunday morning services work well for that. Usually, there's so many people that it's difficult to pick one person out or get them aside to 'talk with them about faith' because of the crowd. Dress appropriately so you don't stand out, and no one will likely notice you're there even if you're not participating.

 

The only reason anyone even noticed me at the service I attended was because the church was very small, and I was right next to the Ushers. No one else seemed to even realize I was standing there and just watching.

 

I found it very interesting. No one there but my family knew me at all. It wasn't the one I attended when I was a believer. [i don't live in that city anymore.]

 

While it would quickly grow boring, it was enough to keep my attention through the length of the service. I also found the artwork around the church interesting. The statues and stained glass kept my attention through the readings of scripture I've heard a hundred times before.

 

I wouldn't say it was 'fun', but it was interesting in an oddly intellectual way to look at it from a different perspective.

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Sometimes I consider scoping out whatever Sunday afternoon church BBQs and church potlucks are going on, so I can show up, mooch slightly more than my share of free food, maybe fuck with a few peoples' heads, and leave.

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ContraBardus, thanks for this thread. I just moved to a new part of town and there's so many churches around here--more churches than street corners in some places--that I'd like to just go and see what it's like sometime. You're giving me some ideas on how to do it. Thanks!

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Things are different as an observer. And if you do it more than once you may notice that your perceptions change, too, depending on what kinds of things you watch for.

 

I was fortunate to take a class in anthropology of religion one semester where we learned "participant observation" and practiced in rural mountain churches in Appalachia (in Virginia and West Virginia). This is somewhat similar to what you experienced, except that we had background reading about the groups we visited and had been instructed to record what we observed -- and our reactions -- as soon as possible after the observation was over. We also interviewed individual church members. We were supposed to set aside our preconceived ideas about the group as much as possible, but it was also emphasized that nobody is able to be completely objective in their observation (hence the record of our reactions along with what we saw). The class taught me a way to watch Christian services in a more detached way and to not be as reactive and angry when certain topics came up. It also helped me to see what some of the members got out of the service. I found it to be very valuable.

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I was fortunate to take a class in anthropology of religion one semester where we learned "participant observation" and practiced in rural mountain churches in Appalachia (in Virginia and West Virginia). This is somewhat similar to what you experienced, except that we had background reading about the groups we visited and had been instructed to record what we observed -- and our reactions -- as soon as possible after the observation was over. We also interviewed individual church members. We were supposed to set aside our preconceived ideas about the group as much as possible, but it was also emphasized that nobody is able to be completely objective in their observation (hence the record of our reactions along with what we saw). The class taught me a way to watch Christian services in a more detached way and to not be as reactive and angry when certain topics came up. It also helped me to see what some of the members got out of the service. I found it to be very valuable.

 

Very interesting. Did all that get turned into something publishable? Or was it just a class exercise?

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