What is a church? Like many aspects of religion, there are many ways to define it. A church can be a place of worship (usually Christian), the followers of a religion (again, usually Christian), a religious service that takes place in a building known as a church (e.g. go to church ), the clergy as distinct from the lay people, and the list goes on. The church is a symbol of many different things for many different people. A church can be a place of traditional worship and meditation, it can be a house of rock and praise, a social meeting place or a historical landmark. In addition to all of these possibilities, the Christian church has many different branches or ways of following. Just as there are traditional orthodox, Hasidic, and reformed Jews, so are there Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, United Church of Christ (UCC) and other kinds of Christianity. All of these branches have different ways of looking at Christianity. So, a church could be a community of people (usually Christians) congregating in a building of worship, and there are many different types of Christianity. Then how does one go about finding what a church is? Instead of trying to answer this question for all churches, I will focus on the branch of Christianity called United Church of Christ (UCC) and how the UCC faith is expressed in Pilgrim UCC church in Grafton WI.
<ul><li>Geertz Definition of religion is “A system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality” </li></ul><ul><li>The United Church of Christ is a subdivision of the Christian faith. There are three major concepts that embody the UCC. I will mention each of these beliefs (that establish moods and motivations) separately and discuss how Pilgrim observes these concepts. </li></ul><ul><li>1.) Like all Christianity, UCC believes in one god in three persons (triune). The Creator, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ, the son who died to forgive the world its sins. The cross is the primary symbol of Christianity and therefore of the UCC faith as it signifies Jesus. The cross is visible in both the interior of Pilgrim, and even the architecture (as seen in the crossbars of the windows). The cross serves to remind people of Jesus, as he is considered the vessel through which humans can reach the divine. Pilgrim itself is less Jesus focused than some churches, believing that he is more of a human prophet of God, as well as God embodied; Pilgrim chooses to interpret the trinity differently in this way. But Jesus is still seen as very important because he was God’s special chosen person. The moods and motivations which this view creates, is that Jesus was very much a man, thus we as mankind can relate to him and follow in the footsteps of his message. Which is interpreted to be loving all, and aiding those in need. Jesus is an important figure in UCC, as demonstrated by the fact that the cross takes center stage in the place of worship (see picture right) and for the UCC he takes a more personable role, as a model for behavior. </li></ul>Pilgrim UCC
<ul><li>2.) The UCC states “notwithstanding race, gender, sexual orientation, class or creed…all belong to God and to one worldwide community of faith.” This means that everyone is welcome in the UCC community. </li></ul><ul><li>Here is an ad from the greater UCC’s (meaning the entire organization) recent campaign that elucidates the welcoming aspect of the UCC faith. </li></ul><ul><li>UCC STEEPLES ADD </li></ul><ul><li>This add is particularly meaningful for Pilgrim, as it tries to embrace this concept of “all the people”. </li></ul><ul><li>The belief that everyone is welcome is a powerful mood and often influences the lives of churchgoers when outside the church. However, this mentality is very observable in the practices of Pilgrim as a whole. Even though it always preaches that everyone is welcome, Pilgrim does have a fairly homogenous congregation. However, Pilgrim does have a ‘sister’ church. This sister church is a ‘black’ church from inner city Milwaukee, and Pilgrim often holds their services there and vice versa, creating diversity in both congregations and emphasizing the ‘everyone is welcome’ mentality. </li></ul>In the UCC add, at :12 there is a homosexual couple, this really drives home the point of “all the people”. Many churches are accepting of all races, but there are those who do not accept homosexuals. Pilgrim, however, has a few Gay couples who are members, and Pilgrim is one of the few churches it is area who is willing to perform same sex marriages. This also emphasizes the welcoming and accepting mentality. That the entire congregation is generally very accepting and follows this rule of Pilgrim wholeheartedly is another testament to how the UCC doctrine is expressed in Pilgrim.
<ul><li>3.) The UCC church is dedicated to helping others and bettering communities in need of aid. “We believe that God calls us to be servants in the service of others…‘To believe is to care; to care is to do.’” UCC churches everywhere are expected to act upon these primary doctrines wholeheartedly (though of course there is variation even within the branch). Pilgrim is extremely active in it’s and others’ community(s), Pilgrim perhaps takes this to be the most important of the UCC beliefs, and makes it Pilgrims mission to help others in many ways. </li></ul><ul><li>Picture one shows several Pilgrim youth and one other member at a house that they have helped to build for Habitat for Humanity. That there are youth involved shows how ingrained it is in the Pilgrim’s idea of faith and how important service is to members. </li></ul><ul><li>Picture two is of one of Pilgrim’s members and a child in Mbita Kenya, where Pilgrim has helped to build a school, a youth center and a care center for the village. Pilgrim, in addition to sending several people to help build the center, also organized a charity effort. This allowed those who were unable to go to Kenya to donate diapers, food and school supplies to be sent to the village. Many many boxes were collected, such that it took many loads and help from the local villagers to get it all from the airport to Mbita. This sort of outreach lets everyone participate and encourages everyone to do so. The amount of donations given show that most if not all of Pilgrim helped in this particular project and that members of Pilgrim consider this very important. </li></ul>
<ul><li>In the photo one can see the typical style of dress in Pilgrim. It is varied but usually casual. This casual style of dress is representative of two things. First, it shows the modern nature of Pilgrim, that is changing with the times, that, in a world where one does not dress up to go ‘out’, one does not need to dress up to go to church either. Second, this casual dress shows that Pilgrim is an active church so their dress reflects that. In dressing casual, one is ready to go on to the next thing right afterwards. Be that Sunday school, habitat for humanity, or home, Pilgrim is always busy and does not have time to dress well. However, one can notice that not everyone is casual, there is a woman in turquoise towards the left that is fairly well dressed. This shows that Pilgrim still has more traditional members and that there is certainly not a dress code, allowing anyone to feel comfortable; an aspect important to UCC. </li></ul><ul><li>This accommodating atmosphere allows both old and young to attend Pilgrim comfortably. The varied worship services also cater to both the older and younger generations. While some members do not like the traditional hymns and others do not like the praise songs, Pilgrim always throws in a little of both so that everyone is happy. Though it is impossible to please everyone, in general, this mixture of many styles allows most to be content, making Pilgrim a diverse (in terms of age and cultural preference) congregation. This again connects to the welcoming atmosphere that is essential for UCC in general and exemplifies how Pilgrim is attempting to achieve this. </li></ul><ul><li>In addition to following these doctrines, Pilgrim has many other ways of observing their faith. All churches in UCC hold worship services. (shown on right) Pilgrim itself has such a large congregation that it has two different services; one in the early morning and one in the later morning (depicted on right is the later morning service). The greater UCC is not very controlling and does not govern how worship services are supposed to go, so there is much variation between UCC churches as to how worship services are. Pilgrim is a fairly progressive church stating “out faith is thousands of years old, our thinking is not.” The worship services reflect this by taking both older more traditional ways (hymns, bible verses etc.) and mixing them with contemporary styles of worship (praise songs, casual dress etc.). In the photo, one can see the traditional hymnals being used, but the bulletins with the praise songs words in them are also visible. </li></ul>
<ul><li>The continuation and teaching of the UCC Christian message is also a large part of Pilgrim’s attitude. Children make up a large part of the community. Unlike some churches whose congregation is aging, Pilgrim’s progressive style draws in parents with younger children quite often. These children are taught the ways of Pilgrim through Sunday school, a central part of Pilgrim youth programs. In Sunday school, children participate in crafts and activities that educate them about their faith, so that once they are older, they too can act compassionately, helpfully and openly; developing the moods and motivations of their parents and fellow church members. </li></ul><ul><li>In the picture to the right, one particular group (grade 3 or 4) was learning about the different cultures in Africa so that they could better understand why many of their parents were flying there (to Mbita, mentioned earlier). This early establishment of certain beliefs (help others, all cultures are equally fine etc.) helps the children to become involved and content within the UCC community as they grow older. Learning about others and their culture (Jambo means hello in Swahili) also helps establish an open mind that is essential for a welcoming heart. </li></ul>Sunday school also serves to educate children about their religion, they learn about the message of Jesus (as the UCC interpret it, that he was a role model but also the Son of God). Seen in the picture at the bottom, the children are participating in a connection game. Each person grabs a piece of yarn, and therefore connects themselves with someone else, then as the yarn is grabbed by all, everyone is connected in a circle. Games like these help children to learn about their faith, and what morals or values are important. Behind them on the wall one can see the painting of all different kinds of people and a world. This sort or wall decoration adorning the Sunday school rooms also aids in the development of the moods and morals that the adults of the UCC find so important. These morals that are taught in church, will be cultivated and grown such that they extend to the child’s viewpoint even in daily life.
3.) There are several people present: while of course the whole congregation is looking on, there are a few select people who have been chosen to accompany the person to the Font. These are family members and friends/sponsors. They are responsible for helping the person in his journey through the faith, and providing a supporting community within a community. In more formal churches, there would be the parents and then a set of adults called Godparents. However, Pilgrim, being the progressive church it is, chooses to observe this more loosely and instead there are friends present. <ul><li>Pilgrim, like all churches, also has certain rituals and rites that it performs. In this picture, the young man in black (in the front) is about to be baptized. Baptism has many different meanings for different branches; to some, it means a washing away of the natural sin that everyone is born with, for Pilgrim, it signifies a persons birth into the church and church community. Since Pilgrim is such a large church, and has so many young children, it is not uncommon for there to be a baptism every day. Baptism itself is one of the oldest Christian traditions. There are several symbols here. </li></ul><ul><li>1.) Water: the pastor is blessing the water in this photo, this blessing symbolically puts the Holy Spirit into the water such that the person being baptized can be touched by the faith. Water was also used to baptize Jesus, and in doing the same with their congregation members, Pilgrim is welcoming them into the faith as Jesus was welcomed by God when He was baptized and God declared Jesus to be God’s Son. </li></ul><ul><li>2.) The Font: the font is the bowl in which the water is contained. While in many UCC churches, this font does not have any particular significance, other than it is used for baptism, for Pilgrim it is very special. This bowl and pitcher were made by an older woman (now deceased) as a gift for her church. Holding this font as special for that reason also, demonstrates Pilgrim’s important sense of community. Baptism itself, also heightens this communal atmosphere, since baptism is seen by Pilgrim to be a sort of welcome. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Lastly, but certainly not least, Pilgrim believes that a sense of community is essential to their church. Pilgrim is a very very active church, both in outreach and community service, but also in bettering it’s own community. Pilgrim holds many events that are meant to bring people of Pilgrim closer together. These events include dinners, talent shows, group walks for benefit (crop, aids, cancer walk, etc.) There are essentially two types of gathering (other than worship or business). Social gatherings (or fellowships) for bettering the church community, and benefit gatherings, for raising money for various causes. These programs are meant to allow members to become closer, and let newcomers feel a part of something and get to know Pilgrim better or aid others in some way. </li></ul><ul><li>On the left is a photo from the start of the year barbeque. This event is an example of the social gathering. There is a little something for everyone, games and chalk for children, and food and company for adults. In the picture three members laugh with a new arrival. All members are wearing nametags so that newcomers can identify them and get to know them. This event is meant to be a way to kick off the year as a community and to bring others into the church. </li></ul><ul><li>The second picture is of the annual ‘Pilgrim UCC Harley ride’. Another event purely to help facilitate fellowship, the ride is a fairly modern idea and signifies that Pilgrim is very much progressing with the times. It also helps create a little something for everyone and imply that even Harley riders can be religious and belong to Pilgrim. </li></ul><ul><li>These functions are meant to bring people closer and create a happy open environment that anyone (even just passersby) can participate in. This demonstrates Pilgrims desire to have a thriving community, while at the same time, tying into the UCC idea that everyone is welcome, and that their religion is progressive “moods” that is essential to the UCC faith. </li></ul>
<ul><li>In addition to the social gatherings, Pilgrim also hosts get-togethers that are meant to be fun ways to raise money, either for the church, or for others. Here are the cooks for the ‘men’s dinner’ an event where donations are highly recommended that allows the men of Pilgrim to cater to the patrons. All of the proceeds from this event go to Pilgrim for various uses. This event helps Pilgrim hold other events (by providing funds) but also creates a sense of camaraderie between the men, bringing them closer together and giving them time to bond. All the servers wear formal clothing and Pilgrim aprons to add to the ambiance and demonstrate that they are the men of Pilgrim. </li></ul><ul><li>Pilgrim also participates in fund raisers that aid other communities or peoples; this is similar to their work in Mbita, but that is considered more mission work. Whereas community service and outreach at home is provided through events such as cropwalk (to get money for food for poor in the area) and relay for life (to gather funds for cancer patients and research). I was unable to obtain a picture of Pilgrim doing Cropwalk, but these signs are all over the church when that time of year comes around. These events are very important to Pilgrim, and the turnout for them is always high. Events that seek to provide money are vital for establishing fellowship, but are more important in the promotion of the belief of helping others as a church whenever possible. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Finally, the comma. This is the slogan for the greater UCC faith and can be seen in several locations in Pilgrim. The comma is supposed to go at the end of every statement in UCC belief because “god is still speaking”. This statement sums up in a few words, what Pilgrim does and believes as a UCC church. God is still speaking, because of this Jesus should still be a role model, humanity should be helped, worship and prayer should still occur and churches should still progress in their thinking and behaviors. These beliefs are the “moods and motivations” that Pilgrim follows. And they also serve to provide an order of existence as those who follow these beliefs act on them, follow and teach them in daily life. </li></ul><ul><li>The UCC tradition spans many churches, in many states, each with their own way of following the doctrines. Pilgrim church is simply an example of one churches way of expressing what they believe in their different actions in and out of church. </li></ul><ul><li>According to Pilgrim God is still speaking, and therefore they will keep on with their actions, building community, faith and hope. </li></ul>