Without a doubt, religion is one of the most powerful forces that shape society. It has been the cause of numerous wars as well as long lasting peace in the world. There diverse religious sects that exist in the world today and their influence reverberate to world events even unto the personal lives of its members. One of such sects is a Christian church which named itself the “Friends Church.” For this paper I have made visit into one of its congregations in Yorba Linda, California (zipcode: 92886). From this experience, I can say that the said church is living the standards of the common Christian life as it tries to affect everything and everyone that it could possibly reach.
Before delving deeper into the discussion of the Friends Church, it is first important to understand its origins and some of its initiatives. The said church was formerly known as the Yorba Linda Friends Church. It falls under the category of an “evangelical Christian mega church.” This means that its congregation reaches the thousands level during worships, that it continuous to grow in numbers, and that it centers it work upon evangelism or the spreading of their doctrine to wherever possible. It tries to influence even some of the international events such as the stride for the freedom of the Dalits in India. It is a Christian religion, which means that its doctrines are centered in the the teachings of Jesus Christ as stated in the protestant bible. It is also considered a Baptist church, which would mean that they encourage the idea of baptism for membership into the church (Robinson-Jacobs).
Having the aforementioned information, I attended their congregation in Yorba Linda California on a Sunday morning. One of the things that immediately had my attention was the building that they do their worship. It is a squarish building that is relatively huge compared to some of the churches in the area. It is more like a theatre where an artist would do a concert. Another thing that got my interest was the lack of religious symbol in the building where they do their worship. Symbols such as a cross or a crescent moon are not present in any of the parts of the building including in the insides. There also no icons, sculpture of angels or cherubs, saints, or any special altar with decorations. It was a plain stage at the front, which is only slightly elevated from the ground. There were sits immediately at the front and sides of the stage. There were also sits at the upper parts of the worship hall of the building. All the sits are modestly made – there no special decorations or symbols in them. Upon observing such, I felt that, perhaps, the people of the congregation are advocating for a simple life – a life that is not centered in the elaborateness of things or luxury. In this regard, I can say that they are living the teaching if the Christ up to considerable degree of importance. The simple architecture as well as the arrangement of things in the building talks about practicality. Indeed, why would anyone need an elaborately decorated building for worship if the one being worship led a life that is so simple. The lack of symbol for their religion makes me think that, perhaps, they – the community – wanted not object of image to represent their religion but their lives instead. It is a religion that wants to become known, not for symbols, but by their normal lives.
As they commenced with their worship, there were prayers and introduction of speakers. Their prayers were fairly simple but heartfelt as I can tell from the reactions in the faces and the gestures of their hands. Their hymns are somewhat modern. There was actually a band that sang hymns for the congregation and the congregation either listened to them or joined into the throng. It the worship was filled with singing praises to their God. This is something that is unique in my experiences of worship, as the majority of other worships that I attended wanted to maintain an atmosphere of reverence by singing soft hymns and by minimizing talking – it was quiet on the majority of the worships that I attended on other religions. All in all I can say that the worship or service was fairly informal- the speakers. But this does not mean that when there is someone speaks at the front stage everybody also talks. While I was there, I can sense that the congregation had the utmost reverence for their speaker as they were attentive and would respond to some of his invocations. There were no speaking in tongues. The speaker simply read some verses from the bible and then goes on to explain it – all in the English language. Nevertheless, I learned that they believe in speaking of tongues when I talked to one of their members. Perhaps the reason why I did not hear the speaker speak in tongues is because the majority of the members where White Americans, and I myself know how to speak the English language – so there was not a need to speak in other language. Such practices tell us that the ritual activity is also very simple and practical. The ritual does not focus on miracles but on the things that an ordinary person could do every day – it was a practical religion. There was no turning of water into wine or the sudden healing of disease. What they talked about are the personal things like love between husbands and wives and respect among members of the family – simple, yet powerful messages that could change society and even the world if applied every day.
As aforementioned, there were speakers for the congregation. I was informed that these speakers were previously assigned. There was, however, an unwritten rule that anyone who thinks that they need to speak at the front can easily do so. There are no rules against such acts. I was also informed that all those who spoke were previously informed to prepare for their message for the congregation. Note that there were prayers of every kind during the worship. It is also important to note that one of the members explained to me that their songs are prayers, too. There were prayers for the healing of the sick people and there were prayers for America and the rest of the world. There were many prayers – more than five of them – for the whole worship activity. It seemed that there were well-defined roles. There were those who spoke and there were those who sang with the band. I also noticed that the majority of the people who sat at the sits nearest to the stage were leaders, because they were introduced and some of the spoke for the congregation. Nevertheless, one important thing that I observed is that the leaders and the common members were all wearing simple clothing. There was no special clothing for the speakers or the band. The majority of the men were just wearing long pants and polo-shirts. From such functions and roles, it is safe to infer that the church has a functional structure.
As I focus on the messages or sermons given by the speakers I realized that they had messages that are related to each other. The first speaker talked about the perilous time that the present generation is facing, about the degeneration of traditional family values. The second speaker talked about the family and its role in rearing the next generation of Christ's disciples. The third speaker talked about love for all men. From these messages the main themes could be deduced: love, compassion, responsibility, and the proper Christian life.
These messages tell us that the community believes in moral values that are patterned according to the life the Christ. It tries to sustain the traditional family by putting great emphasis in the joint responsibilities shared by a mother and a father in rearing their children to the teachings of the Christ.
The next thing that I focused on is the demographic composition of the congregation. The congregation is dominantly “white,” or European Americans. Nevertheless, I also saw some Asians and some people who looked like Spanish Americans. I was not fortunate to see any Black American during the worship activity. When I asked one of the members about this – the absence of Black American – he told me that the religion is for all people who want to accept Jesus Christ and his teachings and are willing to be baptized in the church. There is no racial discrimination. He also told me that there were black American at the back sits but I was just not fortunate to see them. I also noticed that there were similar numbers of women to men. There were also children – many of them. From the church attendance I can safely infer that, indeed, the church does not exclude anyone from becoming a member of the church.
In conclusion, as I reflect on the worship that I attended I realize that it was very different from the religion that I grew up to. The said church was more informal. It must be fun to participate with its worship, but it may not be as solemn as other worships that want to create a reverent atmosphere. The church, in my opinion gives high importance to fellow shipping as the members seem to talk a lot with one another, especially, after the worship. I may not be very comfortable with such settings or styles of worship, but I can tell from the faces and smiles of the people there that they are happy – that they are thinking that they have done something that was right.
Robinson-Jacobs, Karen. California and the West; Church Construction is looking up; Religion: an increase in immigration and a rebounding economy have sparked a building boom in Southland. 2008. Los Angeles Times.