I participated in the 11am service, at White Rock United Methodist Church, on White Rock Rd, in Sykesville Md. I attended the service on March 20, 2011. This church is an African American dominated church, with one or two other represented nationalities. I was conducting a participant observation, which is a research method were you observe people in their natural setting or activities. I went to the church and was an active participant in the service. I was concerned that I would stand out as a visitor at the service and I would feel uncomfortable and a bit lost during the service. I didn?t want to offend anyone with my presence.I was interested to see how I would be treated and if I would be asked back again. I wanted to see how different, if at all, it would be from church services I attend. I was also concerned with what I would wear to the service, I know several African Americans, and they dress very nice for church. The first task at hand was to come up with a suitable wardrobe for my outing. I called a close friend of mine, the evening before, who immediately told me I would have to wear hoes with my dress, ?All women at church wear hoes?. That in itself was a task to find not only hoes, but shoes to wear with them. After several outfit changes my children told me I looked church appropriate. The next morning I got up and dressed and drove to church. I sat in the parking lot for a minute to observe others going into the church, making sure I was not too overdressed. I was very nervous at this point; I do not like going places where I don?t know others. I finally got the nerve to go in.
Upon my entry in the doors, my anxiety high, I noticed a small group of people on the stairs. I walked up to them and told them I was interested in attending the service and could they direct me to the chapel. They told me to go and speak to the lady around the corner, I did and she welcomed me very graciously and told me a bit about the service and the church. I was even asked to join their BBQ, which they hold several times in the spring and summer. I took a seat and noticed the church was much smaller than the one I attend; the congregation was elderly as well. I also took note that I was dressed appropriately. People were looking at me and smiling and I felt quite comfortable at this point. As the service began it was very similar to the service I attend. I did however notice there was a bit more singing, and people tend to shout out during the sermon. I am not use to that in my own church service but have been to other services where this has occurred. During the service I was asked to stand and introduce myself and everyone welcomed me. After the service I was asked to come back again and thanked for coming.
I did not think I would feel much culture shock, personal disorientation when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life, (Macionis, 2011) during this trip. I socialize with many different ethnicities and am at ease with mingling with other nationalities. I attend church service on occasion with my family and I use to attend every Sunday as a child. However, the clothing worn at this church as opposed to the service I attend was noticeably different. It was more reminiscent of the church services I attended when I was younger; we use to dress up for church then. I did experience my normal accelerated anxiety about being in a room full of strangers. As I expected, I did not feel very awkward during the service.I could see, however, someone who has not attended a religious service or perhaps doesn?t socialize outside of their own race may experience culture shock.
During this visit I tried to practice cultural relativism, the practice of judging a culture by its own standards. Rather than from an ethnocentrism, the practice of judging another culture by the standards of one?s own culture, (Macionis, 2011) stand point. The culture was so similar to what I am accustom to this was not hard to do. I would have to say comparing the clothing to my own culture was the only relativism I found myself critiquing. My own previous experience with this culture had me prepared already for what I would encounter, so I was able to be at ease and join in as a participant rather than an outsider.
I have a hard time finding a pattern in African American culture that differs much from my own social perspective. The social structure and functions are the same. In the sermon that day, however, they spoke of gender-conflict and feminism. I found this quite interesting, the sermon spoke of how women have been recognized now in this country as almost equals while still in other places in the world they are treated less than second class citizens. It went on to quote from the bible how Jesus would teach women as well as men the word of the God. How the Jews only thought the men should have such knowledge. I never knew the Jews were so against women learning, I was glad to have learned something new from the sermon that day.I was very pleased with the sermon and the message it was sending out. I felt it fit well with the sociological perspective we have been learning in class.
This experience for me was very pleasant. I am not a practicing Christian today, although I was raised in this belief. For me, this was reminiscent of my experience with church in my youth. The culture was a bit different; being among people of a different skin color in church was new to me. I do, however, spend a great deal of time in situations where my race is the only represented. The service practiced the same values and beliefs as those of churches I attended in the past. The experience, again, reminded me of why I do not attend church service now. Why I choose not to practice any social religion. I believe the social aspect of religion is a positive service, and benefit many; however in my opinion it causes too many social conflicts worldwide. Many cultures tend to use their religious beliefs to do harm to others. I also have a hard time believing the interpretations of the scriptures that have been defined in today?s societies.
My experience with ethnicity and race, as well as religion is vast. I have multicultural children, I have no practicing religion and I have lived in many places around the world. My first and predominating viewpoint and one I have taught my children is that people are all equal, we are of the same species just different skin colors; all different shades of brown. My views come from life experiences; I was not raised this way. In fact, I believe my rebellion against my mother as a teenager had a great impact on my beliefs today. I started dating outside my race as a young adult just to make my family crazy. I had always found different cultures interesting and enjoyed learning about them. As I moved from place to place as an adult, I was surprised to find such acceptance from other nationalities. I was brought up thinking whites were superior and any other cultures were less than us, unless of course they acted ?white?. I really enjoyed the closeness of the family in other cultures, and the value they put on their beliefs.
I often talk to my children about the role religion plays in the conflicts in the Middle East today. I feel that the US government is a key player in the mistrust that has been instilled in the American people today regarding Muslims. I am a strong believer in learning about an individual and their beliefs and judging them for who they are and not what they look like or come from or believe in. I have no dislike for any religious belief as I said; I feel it is fine for others. I have a problem when people use it to justify bad actions. I think the American people as a whole are judging without knowledge of the religion they dislike. This is a form of racism and just shows ignorance. Why the US government wants to show the world our ignorance is beyond me.
In conclusion, this assignment was a great experience for me. I enjoyed the service and the people were very friendly. I do intend to take my children back to the BBQ?s this year! I know that there is a lot of racism in this county and hope this experience has opened some eyes of others.
Macionis, John. Society the basics. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001.