Single Congregation

For this assignment you will make multiple visits to a single congregation that practices some version of Christianity.Your task will be to understand nature of the congregation’s community life, how it shapes the lives of its members, and the role the church plays in a larger social context.This will require library and Internet research: however, your main source of information about these people will be your own observations.

  1. You will observe at least one of their main weekly worship services.
  2. You will visit and observe at least one other church activity.
  3. You will interview a member of the clergy or a lay member who has the knowledge to answer your questions.

Before you make the visit itself, you must research the congregation and its denomination and/or denominational family.Also make sure you understand the Seven Dimensions of Religion.Before you go anywhere near this group you should have a written list of the questions you will need to answer.

Choosing a congregation:

Choose a congregation that practices a style of Christianity[1] that is unfamiliar to you.Do not pick a church that is part of the same denomination or denominational family as any of those in which you were raised or have ever been affiliated.If you grew up in a church that uses a lot of formal rituals and decoration you should do your report on one that is less formal.Examples of very formal and ritualistic groups would be the Roman Catholics, the Episcopalians, the Eastern Orthodox and the Lutherans.Christians who de-emphasize ritual formality include, Baptists, Disciples of Christ, Non-Denominational Christians, and Pentecostals.

Preparing for the visit:

  • Begin your research before you visit by using the library and Internet resources.Most congregations now have one or more websites. You need to find them, and you also need to find the websites of the specific denominations and/or associations to which the congregation belongs. In addition to finding relevant websites, go to the library to find books and other materials that deal with the denomination or religious movement of which the church is a part.Pay particular attention to how and why this type of Christianity began, and how it has developed in recent years.Identify its most distinctive features so you can look for evidence of these when you go there.
  • Many students will choose a church of a friend who can act as an informant, and I encourage students to play this role for each other.Informants can tell you about the customs and their meanings, and they can also tell you in advance about the group’s expectations of visitors, like what to wear, and when to stand and sit during the service.If at all possible, you should know these things before you go in.
  • If you visit a church to which no one you know belongs, you should probably phone ahead to make sure that the church welcomes visitors, and find what week would be a good time to attend.You should know in advance what is appropriate to wear.Some congregations have rules about this, and others have unwritten expectations.The very casual clothing students usually wear to class, such as jeans, t-shirts, and sweats, is seldom appropriate for church services.Some congregations might also have a problem with sleeveless shirts, very short skirts, etc., so try to find out in advance.If in doubt it is usually best to dress conservatively, with men in coats and ties, and women in dresses or skirts.Also make sure if it is appropriate to take notes during services, and when you might take pictures.If possible try to make an appointment to talk to a member of their clergy or a lay member who knows the history and practices of the church well enough to answer your questions.
  • Arrive at the church at least fifteen minutes ahead of time.Familiarize yourself with the church, parking lot, and the social environment, and review your notes about what to look for.
  • Before you sit down, look for a church bulletin and other printed matter that will help you understand the church and become familiar with the worship that is about to commence.Find any books that you will need to participate in the service, such as hymnals, prayer books, or Bibles.
  • Many congregations display a variety of free pamphlets and other printed material that attempt to answer basic questions about who they are, what they do, and what is most important to them.These can be a valuable source for you.
  • Take lots of notes on what you see, hear, or otherwise experience.If possible, do this as you make your observations.Some congregations frown on taking notes during services, so find out ahead of time if this is allowed.In any case, you will need to write down or dictate as much as you can remember immediately after the service.I recommend carrying a tape recorder in your car and begin dictating as soon as you get back to it.Also, after the service make note of any questions you have for the pastor or congregants at the church.Focus on observations that provoked questions about what was happening.If there is a social hour after the service you can use it to find people in the congregation who can answer your questions.Before you leave the church try to get the phone number of someone to whom you can ask questions that occur to you after you leave the service.
  • Most churches take up collections during their services.So come prepared with a few dollars to throw into the basket as it goes around.

Format Guidelines:

The Field Inventory should be in the form of a coherent and cohesive essay, not the question and answer format of the field visit reports.Make sure it conforms to the following format guidelines:

  • The paper should be typed on a word processing program in a 12 pt font like Times New Roman, and it should be double-spaced with 1.25” to 1.5” left and right margins.
  • Use the subheadings suggested in these instructions. Subheadings should be bold-faced.Make sure that everything you write under a sub-heading is relevant to the topic of that subheading.
  • Number the pages and staple them together in the top left-hand corner.
  • Include a bibliography of all sources used to complete this assignment, including the people with whom you spoke.
  • Use the citation and bibliography guidelines of one of the Modern Language Association (MLA).

Writing standards:

  • Write in complete sentences within well–organized paragraphs.
  • Each paragraph should have a clear topic sentence, and all other sentences in the paragraph should relate directly to that topic sentence.
  • Note that a subheading is not the same as a paragraph, and that many subheadings will have multiple paragraphs under them.
  • Make very clear the difference between your voice, as the researcher and writer, and those of your sources.This includes both written sources and people to whom you spoke.
  • Be particularly careful not to allow the pious insider language of the people you study to become part of your own voice. It is your job to translate and explain such language to outsiders.
  • The word feel has a particular meaning in this paper—and this class.It indicates a strong emotion or physical sensation. Do not use it to indicate a particular belief or opinion.That will tend to confuse how you discuss the dimensions of the religion you are observing.

Report Content:

Your report should include a discussion of how this congregation expresses its beliefs about life’s ultimate meaning and purpose.Use the Seven Dimensions of Religion model to classify your examples.The paper should also include information necessary to put this in a social and historical context. Use the following subheadings to organize the paper, and answer as many of the questions below as you can.

Introduction: What is the exact name of this church, and why did you select it?What makes it an appropriate subject for this assignment?What was the date and time of your visit?Was this the main weekly worship service, or was it aimed at a particular segment of the congregation, such as youth, singles, women, etc?Did you go alone or with a friend?Was there anyone from the congregation that provided you with information?If so, who, and what kind of information did they supply?

Location and Affiliation:Where is this church located and what kind of neighborhood surrounds it?What is its exact address?How old is the congregation, and what are its ties to the local community?Of what larger movement, tradition, and denominational family is this church a part?Name and describe any larger formal organization, such as a denomination or association, with which this church is affiliated.

Social Context: In so far as you can determine it, what is the range of socio-economic classes represented in this congregation?Look for clues to their income and education levels by observing their clothing, automobiles, and general appearance, as well as their use of language, professions, etc.What is the age range and gender distribution of the people present? What is their racial and ethnic distribution?

Material Dimension: How do these people designate sacred space, and how are their building and grounds arranged to facilitate their sense of the divine.Keep in mind that sacred spaces might be both outside and inside.What areas are more holy than others?Why do you think so? What areas do they use to make the transition between sacred and secular?What activities go on in the different spaces you observed?Who sits where in the worship space?Where does the worship leader or clergy person clergy person stand or sit?What roles did religious art objects, and furnishings play?About how many people would the room seat, and how many were present?

Social/Institutional:How do these people organize themselves?Who has authority in this congregation?How are they chosen? Who controls the money?Who owns the property? How is this congregation affiliated with other churches or institutions?Is it part of a larger denomination or association of congregations?How is this denomination structured?What kind of authority does the denomination have over the congregation and/or its clergy?How is the organization of this congregation different from that any other? What kind of clergy do they have?What are the jobs for which they hire clergy?How is the clergy chosen and trained? How are they ordained?Who hires and fires the clergy?What is the nature and extent of their authority over the laity? Besides the clergy, who else does this congregation hire people.What important jobs does this congregation fill with volunteers?Besides a weekly worship service, what other sort of gatherings and activities does this congregation have for its members?

Ritual/Practical: Describe the order in which the service unfolded.How was the worship service ordered?How long did it last, and what was the approximate length of each of its parts?Was it dedicated to a particular theme or explicitly tied to a seasonal or annual liturgical plan?What sacraments or “ordinances” were performed during the worship service? For what or whom did the congregation pray?How were prayers conducted and by whom? Of what other practices, done at other times, did you find evidence while visiting?What kind of music was used? Was there a choir?How about musical instruments?Note any hymns, prayers, silences, or other prominent features of the service and approximately how long each lasted. What in the service reflected a specifically religious organization of time. Look particularly at the bulletin or other printed matter for references to the liturgical calendar.Were there biblical readings from either the Hebrew Bible or New Testament that are read as part of a cycle of readings corresponding to the liturgical year?What parts of the Bible were read?Was there any use of a language other than English?If there was a sermon, what was its theme and style and how long did it last?Did it seem carefully prepared in advance and read to the audience, or was it more spontaneously composed?What kind of rules govern the de3corum of the church and its members while involved the rituals and activities going on inside the church? Is there a dress code? Do members address each other in formal ways they would not use in another setting?

Experiential/Emotional:What specific emotions did people present display or discuss?How did people hold and move their bodies during the service?To what extent did people express themselves verbally? How did people discuss their own experience with the divine, and how does the group explain and attach value to these experiences?

Narrative/Mythic:What biblical or other religious stories were told during the service, and to what extent were connections made to ideas of incarnation and/or resurrection?Were there stories told about this congregation and/or its members?How ere these stories linked to the central narratives of Christianity?Was there artwork or other elements that told religious stories? Does this church have classes in which the essential narratives of Christianity are discussed or otherwise conveyed?

Legal/Ethical:What rules and guidelines does this congregation have regarding the way people treat each other?Where do these rules come from, and how are they presented?What major ethical principles did you see or hear discussed?Too what extent does this church take positions on major social and political issues?. Note that legal and ethical behavior is a large part of all Christianity these on display, you need to look harder.

Doctrinal/Philosophical:What doctrines and or beliefs do these people especially emphasize?What doctrines are distinct to this kind of Christianity? What creeds or other statements of belief do they use? How were their doctrines discussed or conveyed?How do they convey their doctrines to their members or potential members?

Storyline:Every religious group has a storyline that is an essential component of their identity.It gives meaning to their work together and explains what their purpose is.Note that each different level of organization creates a community with at least one storyline.Your task is to discover the storyline of the particular congregation you observe. How the people would answer the following questions about the life and history of their particular congregation? For every group of people there is at least one narrative line that answers the following questions:

  • Where do they believe they come from?What are their needs, strengths, and vulnerabilities at the point the story begins?
  • Where do they want to go?What are they, as a group, trying to achieve?What is their main purpose?
  • What obstacles must they overcome? What stands between them and their goal?What makes their purpose difficult?
  • How do they plan to overcome them?They will have some kind of discipline or plan to guide them.
  • What help do they hope to get?What help, beyond their own resources, does this group believe they will need to achieve their goal?

Note that the answers you give to each of these questions should relate to each other and form a consistent storyline.See the article entitled “Making Meaning:

Five Questions that Create Stories.”

Distinctive Features and Comparisons:How did this congregation express the key ideals and values of Christianity, particularly incarnation and resurrection?How did it understand salvation?What practices did you see that were particular to this tradition? How did the worship of this congregation compare with what you learned about the other churches that we visited?

Subjective reactions:What was the most surprising thing about this place or group?Why do you think it surprised you?What emotions did you experience during your visit?What provoked these emotions?What about this place did you like most?What did you like least?Why?

Conclusion:How did this project affect your understanding of Christianity and the society of which you are a part?

Citations Bibliography:You must cite all sources of information you have used. This includes interviews, church pamphlets and websites, as well as books, videos, and films.If you have doubts about whether or not to cite something, go ahead and cite it.Use either in-text parenthetical citations or footnotes. Attach a bibliography of all the sources, including internet sources, you used in completing this report.Use the format guidelines of the Modern Language Association (MLA). These can be found in the writing manuals you used in UIndy’s introductory writing classes. Note that as you make reference to these sources in the body of the paper they should be properly cited in footnotes or parenthetical citations.See the appropriate style guides for detailed instructions.

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