Participant Observation Project of a Protestant Church Visitors

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How many different religions and branches are there within these religions? When it comes to religion, I have little knowledge about other religions let alone the one I consider myself to go by which is Catholic. Growing up I would accompany my parents to a local church, Santa Rosa, every Sunday morning. As a young child, I never truly understood what the priest was talking about, so I would dread for the time to go by much faster just wanting to head for breakfast which was what my family did every weekend. Till this day, religion isn’t a huge aspect in my life just because I never dove into the many options I have now. I go by Catholic because it’s the religion I grew up with and my rest of my family also abides by Catholic. As I moved to Lancaster a few years ago, I noticed that there were a very few churches near my area. This project really intrigued me as I was truly going to be able to get something out of it. There was a possibility that I get more engaged with religion as part of me or I may convert religions for once in my life. I decided to drive twenty minutes to a Protestantism Church expecting to learn as much as I could not only about the religion but about to social aspect of the people who filled this specific church. I not only attended their mass, but I also joined one of their bible studies.

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The Protestantism Church I attended in the Lancaster area was very interested with visitors joining their mass. The reason I decided to attend this specific church was because one my family members recommended me this church being one of the best within the very few in our area. He explained how the volunteers and employees were very well informed within this religion and how they were very open to non-members. Before I entered, just to be sure, I asked multiple helpers of this church whether visitors were allowed, and I was assured they welcomed non-members wholeheartedly. I also made sure they allowed materials such as a notebook and pencil which could also been used during the mass which they were completely fine with. The church I attended, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, had times decided by the language you wished to listen by. The Sunday English Mass had much earlier times such as 6:45a.m., 8:00 a.m. and 9:00a.m. I decided to join specifically the Spanish one which was at 12:30 in the afternoon. I was used to having mass last about an hour long, maybe ten minutes over the hour, but at this specific church they had mass last an hour and thirty minutes. As far as how I observed, I used a notebook to draw and write the various things I saw. I began by drawing the outline of the inside of the church which included the rows of chairs, the front of the church where the status was held, and the outline of the inside with what was hung on the walls or painted. I was told that they preferred I not used technology during the mass just because it was considered disrespectful and I completely respected how they held their services. I told the volunteers the reason of my visit which was both for a project for a sociology class and because I myself was interested in learning more about a religion I knew nothing about. The use of the notebook and pen was sufficient, and I was able to gather a lot of knowledge both about the religion and how the church structured their mass every Sunday.

The begin with, I observed the physical aspect of this church. I came about twenty minutes early just to get a good observation of the somewhat empty church and get seats where I would be able to take notes without distracting anyone but also have a good overview of the entire church during the ceremony. The chairs were very similar to other churches where they were in rows. Specifically, the two middle sections had about fifteen rows and the outer sections had about ten. The presentation of the church was beautiful where paintings were hung on the sides of middle sections and the chandeliers lit the room just right. Also, the differences between the visitors and the volunteers versus the employees were very distinguishable where visitors were well dressed where men were in slacks, dressing shoes and button up shirts and women in dresses with flats. The employees had their church attire being the robes all in white. I came in jeans with a button up but stick stuck out like a sore thumb. I noticed, regarding the behavior of committed visitors, that they were such welcoming people. I expected some to look at me questioning why I was there, but I received the complete opposite. As I walked in through the doors a ten or so minutes early, I was greeted by those who are constant people of this specific church with a big smile and “Good Afternoon.” The church was filled with many races, male and female. The age between the people were both young and old which really opened my eyes. There were African Americans, Whites, Asians and it wasn’t predominantly of one race, there were almost an even amount between them. Age wise, I saw elders and children which many were also joining the various activities going on within the ceremony. One specific ritual was the shaking of hands between those around you. I was writing down notes at the time so before it began, I missed the reasons as to why they did this ritual, but it felt very comforting being able to shake hands with about twenty others with smiles all around. The ceremony contained many singing occasions where there were a group of 5 volunteers to help guide the music. All members had positive means not only within the church but also outside. As I sat through the mass, I noticed the topics the leader was talking about and those who joined him were very positive to both adults and children just wanted to spread a positive message to all. Then, as far as the bible study, the volunteer that ran the study specifically at 5:00 p.m. was excited to have a visitor in the room. She preferred I not takes notes because there was a huge possibility that the other students were going to get distracted. I waited till after the study to take notes in my car. The students were all of age 15-18 and they as well were also amazing humans. They noticed I was a visitor and greeted me with smiles. I used the bible study to learn a lot of how they view the bible and how they interpreted specific sections of the bible. As the volunteer lead the study for about an hour, she read through sections and had students interpret the sections or she herself explained it to everyone. The students came in regular clothes, nothing special which I expected otherwise. The study was well done where the behavior from everyone come out positive and the feeling as you left the room felt amazing.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, a Protestantism Church in the Lancaster area, not only helps enlighten those to a specific religion but also has sociological aspect if taken into consideration. The social behavior of those within this community showed how, in this specific church, communication and the presence of others no matter what races or age group, was very unified. Interaction between anyone and everyone in this church were heartwarming and positive messages were sent to all. When it comes to the ideas of behavior, I realized how communities like this which share a common interest can be very well structured and encouraging. I learned that there are so many more people that truly have a much more positive mindset within this world. Social interactions with people that I had to opportunity to meet at this place of gathering really changed my mindset as how I view sociology. Studying how people interact when they come from different backgrounds including race, age, cities they grew up in and much more has a much bigger impact on me as an individual. People cared about one another even though non-members were attending, and they didn’t push them down making them feel less human just because they were intrigued on learning about their religion. The only thing I would do differently is writing notes after the mass was done. I felt like I couldn’t understand or listen to everything to speaker was talking about. I was lost a few times during the ceremony, so I would have preferred to learn about the religion and observe rather than be distracted writing notes trying while also trying to listen to the speaker and observe the members. Other than that, I feel as my research was an amazing experience both as an individual and as a student.

Field Notes

• Non-members/visitors are happily accepted

• Paintings on walls, main stage has lighting points towards cross

• Seats are arranged in very long rows in middle section, smaller sized rows along the sides

• About 15 rows in middle section, 10 rows along the sides

• Ceremony commenced with group sings song while everyone stands

• Speaker then takes the lead and greets everyone, starts reading from bible

• Bibles were provided behind the seats

• Age – all ages joined

• Sex – probably an even amount of both male and female

• Race – African American, White, Hispanic and Asian

• Constant switch between speaker reading from bible to singing

• Speaker tells everyone to please stand and “ritual” begins

• Those around you will begin shaking hands with a smile no matter what age you are, what race you are, what sex you are. No one is left out.

• Members asked if I was a visitor and then welcomed me with a big heart

• Social interactions were all positive

• Behavior within the Church was very respectful between all, no matter if you’re a visor or a member, dressed formally or not

• Felt heartwarming to be a part of that occasion

• Speaker then goes on to reading from bible once again before beginning another ritual

• He asked for those who wanted and eligible to, please come up

• I saw children, adults, young, old drinking from a gold cup with a liquid and or receiving a flat chewable object said to be part of Jesus

• * Recorded bible study observations after to respect their study *

• Bible study consist of about 20 students

• Speaker begins by greeting everyone and having a small discussion about how everyone’s night is going

• Speaker then opens bible and has everyone go to where they last left off

• I was provided a bible and followed along with them

• Speaker ask a few times for students to share their opinions on what specific parts of the bible meant to them

• Speaker would often explain in detail what certain topics meant and students would question when they felt the need to

• Students were all respectful and their behavior with one another were amazing

• Students came from many different backgrounds

• I was recommended to this bible study by my cousin, so I had the chance to interview a few of the students and their outcome within this community

• Bible study was overall very simple yet interesting

• Speaker respected and enjoyed me as a visitor

• Students did not treat me differently

• I was accepted into their community and they did not ask one question trying to put me aside or feel less of.

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