Sun 19 Feb 2006
For my first visit to a religious site, I attended a mass at the Grace United Methodist Church. The building itself is located at the corner of West Street and Promfret Street. The building is located in an area that seems to be typical for the city of Carlisle. Surrounding the Church are houses and little local stores and restaurants. What was interesting about this area was that moments before the mass was going to start, people seemed to come out of everywhere to enter the church. The building itself stuck out from the rest because of its size and modernity. The church couldn’t be that old and in comparison to the buildings surrounding it, it appeared to be very new. The building was also shaped in such a way that they could have multiple services happening at once. I later found out that during the mass I was at, there is another mass on the other side of the building just for children. The focus of the sacred in this church seems to be fully centered on the alter. The shape of the building narrows as you approach the alter which is located in the front center of the church. There was only one main concentration in the church and it was centered on the alter. When any of the alter servers or the reverend passed in front of the alter, they would bow. They did this when they approached the alter in the beginning and also when they left at the end.
The main religious symbol in the church was the cross. At this particular church, there was an entire wall devoted to different types of crosses. They were all located up high on the left wall when looking at the alter, and spread across the entire wall. There was one peculiar symbol mixed in with all these crosses and it was an anchor. I was unsure as to what the anchor was doing up with the crosses or what exactly it symbolized. There was also a stained glass window behind the alter that had Jesus blessing someone. This centered as a focal point while the crosses seemed to off to the side just sitting on the wall. During the service, there are two candles carried by the alter servers. These candles are carried in front of the reverend in the beginning of the mass and are placed on the alter for the duration of the mass. After the mass has ended, the candles are carried out once again in front of the reverend.
The serves is very well organized, to the point that they hand out a schedule in the beginning of the mass when people are walking in. The mass itself seems to be centered on the lesson of the day from the bible. Once it is done, there are consistent references to it throughout the whole rest of the mass. The mass order appears to be based on the fact that one part will be the reverend talking to the people, followed by everyone doing something together. I feel that this is the way the reverend keeps the people involved and interested in what is happening. This keeps the mass from seeming like a lecture instead of worship. The service lasted about and hour and a half and had a very distinct beginning and end which were marked by the coming and going of the reverend.
The language used in the mass was very modern and was an attempt to make the teachings of the bible more relatable to the people. The majority of the speaking in the mass was done by the reverend. The mass I was at had a slight variation from the normal because there was a visiting Chaplin from the military. The Chaplin gave the sermon for the mass so he ended up doing some of the speaking that normally the reverend would do. Although most of the speaking was done by the reverend or Chaplin, there were periods of silent prayer and singing by the congregation.
The participation of the people in the mass was limited to a few sections. There were times when they sang, and other times when they followed the prayers with the reverend. Other members of the congregation performed tasks such as collecting money and passing out a booklet to sign in. Members of the congregation also served as alter servers for the mass. The people who collected the money were white elderly men, while it was children who were alter servers. People seemed to stay very still during the mass. There was a child sitting in front of me who appeared to be about 12 who throughout the mass would whisper questions to his mother. I appeared to be the last person in the doors, so I didn’t see anyone else that arrived late for the mass.
The members of the church varied in age, with quite a gap in many respects. There seemed to be about 20% of the congregation from the age 60 or above. 50% of the congregation appeared to be between the ages 40-60. 10% of the people in attendance appeared to be between the ages 20-40. The last group appeared to be 20% from age 20 or below. The gender in the church appeared to be relatively evenly split, while all the people at the mass were white. People appeared to be in the working class. People were dressed up for the mass so it is possible that they appeared better off then they truly were.
This was all the information I could obtain in my first visit. The next time I go I intend on scheduling a meeting with the reverend so I can get more information and find out if some of my assumptions were correct.