Posts Tagged 'Assignment 2'

Assignment #2- My Trip to Williamsburg Christian Church

Since I have been a student at William and Mary I have been attending Williamsburg Presbyterian Church.  As I explain to younger students interested in the church, going to WPC gives me a home away from home in Williamsburg.  My home church in Alexandria and WPC are both part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  I am no expert in church politics or theology, but what I have seen of the PC(USA) is fairly consistent.  The worship services in churches I have attended are fairly mainstream and traditional.  There are hymns accompanied by organ or piano, a choir of adults from the church, a pastor in robes delivering a Scripture-based sermon, and other rituals such as prayers, Communion, and an offering.

My church at home is mostly families, with some retirees.  The transient nature of the area brings a lot of families in and out of the church, and there are few families or couples who have attended for more than 20 years.  My family, attending since 1992, is one of the older families around.  Often middle-aged couples leave to retire elsewhere in the country.  WPC, however, is overwhelmingly made up of retirees.  There are some families with children and a spattering of college students, but the majority of the congregation has grown children and is retired.  Both at home and in Williamsburg, the congregation is almost entirely white.  The income levels in my home congregation vary, but in my experience at WPC the income levels are mostly upper-middle class.

My decision to attend WPC occurred even before I moved to campus.  In some questionnaire for the College I had checked my religion as ‘Presbyterian,’ so I received a letter from Westminster Fellowship, or WesFel.  WesFel is a Presbyterian, college fellowship group sponsored by WPC.  Joining WesFel and WPC were automatic for me.  They were extensions of my church life at home.  The other students in WesFel mostly come from PC(USA) churches and have had similar experiences.

So when I thought about getting out of my college bubble, I decided to try a different church.  More importantly, I decided to try a different kind of church that isn’t next to the College.  Several of the churches on Richmond and Jamestown Roads have college groups and appeal to college students in some way.  I chose to get away from this bubble and try Williamsburg Christian Church on John Tyler Lane.  This church isn’t far from William and Mary and I pass it on the way to my friend’s off-campus apartment.  I enlisted another college-aged friend from WPC to come with me and we planned to attend their Sunday morning service.

I looked at the WCC website Saturday to find out what time the service is.  When I poked around I discovered that the church is nondenominational, and I suspected that the service was in a more contemporary style.  The website described that the church did not seek to impose beliefs on its members, but the ‘core beliefs’ section of the site was fairly extensive.  The theology was nondenominational and very focused on the Bible.  In my PC(USA) church experience, congregations are relatively reluctant to talk about controversial or political issues.  When people do bring up issues such as hell, abortion, and Creationism, Presbyterians usually get very uncomfortable and wishy-washy.  I was curious and a little apprehensive about a church with a more literal interpretation of the Bible.

Sunday morning, I first struggled with what to wear to WCC.  At home my Dad goes to a church with a contemporary style service and high income levels, and the congregation is pretty well-dressed.  I’ve attended other contemporary services where people were pretty casual, though, so I wasn’t sure what I would encounter.  I compromised and stuck with an outfit I could wear to church either here or at home: an a-line skirt, a solid color shirt, a cardigan, and simple heels.  Smart casual, perhaps.  My friend and I had carefully planned to arrive just in time for the service to start, so we could sneak in without having to make small talk with a well-meaning but overly curious church member. When we arrived at 10:45AM we went straight into the sanctuary and to seats near the back on the end.

The worship space was casual, as were the church members.  Rather than a big sanctuary, the space had a low ceiling and linked, padded chairs instead of pews.  I was maybe a touch overdressed, as there were plenty of people in jeans or casual slacks.  Like in other churches I have attended, the congregation was almost entirely white, but there seemed to be a much greater difference in age than at WPC.  There was a pretty even mix between high schoolers and people in their eighties and nineties, even though there were maybe 60 churchgoers in attendance.

The worship service began with about fifteen minutes of songs led by a worship band comprising two women singing, a man on guitar, and another man on a drum set.  The words to the songs were projected on a screen at the front rather than being in a traditional hymnal.  Around 11AM the music ended and the pastor stepped up, launching into his sermon almost immediately.  He spoke for about half an hour, longer than my usual sermons, and seamlessly incorporated various scripture readings into the lesson.  I had anticipated a harsh, potentially political message, but I was wrong.  The sermon was sincere, well-informed, and passionate.  The pastor talked about leadership within the church and how sometimes it can be misguided or not up to the task, but that Jesus was always watching and cared about each member of his ‘flock.’  After the sermon there was a simple Communion, an offering, and then a quick prayer and song to close out the service, which ended promptly at 11:59AM.  The only thing that really seemed ‘weird’ to me was between the sermon and Communion when a member of the church got up to play an animated video about how the light of Christ is just around the corner even when things seem dark.  The message didn’t quite fit with the sermon, and the style was really out of place.  Nonetheless, I was surprised by how much I liked the experience.

There were certain limitations to what I could learn while I was there.  I purposely avoided talking to people excepting the friend I brought with me.  In my effort not to offend anyone there by revealing that I was more interested in studying them than worshipping with them I just snuck in before the service and back out when it was done.  In a place like a church, an intimate community, not talking to anyone really limited my impression.

In addition to stepping out of my religious bubble, going to Williamsburg Christian Church got me out of my college bubble.  Going to a church downtown keeps me around college students and retirees.  Honestly, we college kids mostly just interact with each other at the church.  This congregation was more intimate and had a broader demographic.  I didn’t exactly ask other people there what their annual income was, but the casual atmosphere is definitively different from the more formal church I attend.  Even though I was out of my element, new, and a little apprehensive, I felt very comfortable.  This was a pleasant surprise in the Williamsburg community.


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The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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