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THEOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS FIELD-BASED ASSIGNMENT

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Each student will visit a church congregation that represents a church tradition outside of his or her own realm of experience. Catholics will be encouraged to visit a Baptist, Orthodox, Presbyterian, or Charismatic Church, etc. Likewise, those who align with a religious tradition outside of Christianity should feel free to stay within their own tradition, but visit a congregation of a different perspective. For example, those who practice Reform Judaism might want to visit an Orthodox Jewish congregation. Students with no background in a church tradition are free to visit any congregation of their choice.

 

After attending the church, each student will compose an 800-1000 word report that includes

 

  1. an overview of the church’s background and theological distinctives,
  2. a description of the service, and
  3. a reflection on the experience.

Selecting a Church

If you are wondering about the sorts of congregations you might visit, you might consult the Yellow Pages, which list more than a thousand congregations in the greater Saint Louis area. An online church directory for the Saint Louis area can be found at http://www.stlouischurches.org/. You must choose a church other than Saint Francis Xavier College Church on the Saint Louis University campus.

Part I: Researching the Church’s History/Background

Before visiting the church you have selected, spend some time researching its history. To what denomination or group does the church belong? When was it founded? Why was it founded? Has the church ever changed its denominational affinity? How old is the church? How old is the church’s denomination or affiliation? What is theologically distinctive or important to the church’s denomination or affiliation?

Be sure to consult the church’s website for such details. If possible, ask a church leader or member about the church during your visit. Additional details about particular denominations can be found in Handbook of Denominations in the United States (13th edition) by Craig D. Atwood, Frank S. Mead, Samuel S. Hill.

 

 

Part II: Visiting the Church and Describing the Service

Be polite, be respectful, and be on time! Make sure your cell phone is in silent mode and do not text. Remember, you are visiting the place where people come to worship. During your visit, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What was distinctive about the building and its artwork? The service of worship? The words or music used in worship? The homily or sermon?

 

  • What did you notice about the way that people interacted with one another before, during, and after the service? What sort of relationship did you see between the clergy and the laypersons? How, in general, did this group interact with outsiders?

 

  •  What social or political attitudes, if any, did you detect? What did you learn about the social and political engagement of this congregation? Is it involved in the larger community? If so, how?

 

  • What roles do men, women, and children play in the congregation? Is there a clear distinction between older and younger members?

 

  • What ethical practices or cultural customs did you observe? Do food and eating play a role in the congregation? What about music, art, and other forms of artistic performance?

 

  • Did you hear languages other than English being spoken? If so, what role does the use of these languages play in the congregation? Did you see a second- or third-generation effect, whereby the children and grandchildren of immigrants show a changing attitude toward their national or ethnic group?

Part III: Reflection

After attending the service, reflect on the experience, making an explicit connection between your experience and the observed service.  Some questions to consider include the following:

  • How did this church experience compare with your previous church experiences?
  • Was the experience what you expected?
  • How was the service different from your previous experiences? How was it the same?
  • What surprised you?
  • If you haven’t had any experience in a faith-based setting such as this, are there other ways you can connect to the experience in terms of the ritual or community or diverse perspectives?

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