Gina writes:

Yesterday, we went to a Christian church with our friend Masi, to discuss the possibility of Corey and I providing training (e.g. computer skills, public speaking, English writing) to some of the students that go to the school run by the church. We were called up to the stage and asked to introduce ourselves and describe our qualifications before the 50 church members. Depending on logistics and expectations, the trainings may or may not happen, but a side benefit of the visit was the chance to experience a Christian church service in India.

We got to the church just after noon. The service had all of the elements of many Protestant "born-again" services that I've attended in the U.S. The order was the same -- faster praise songs, slower worship songs (two of which are sung at my parents' church!), collection of offerings, sermon, blessing. There was even the Christian rock group with drums, keyboard, and guitarist, led of course by the ambitious and cute male youth pastor! About the only thing that was different was that the men and the women were sitting on separate sides of the room (I didn't realize until part-way through that I was on the wrong side!) and a few of the songs were sung in Hindi.

The church runs an English-medium school, so many of the members (at least the children and youth) know English. In fact, the sermon was delivered in English, with periodic Oriya translation. I couldn't help but chuckle a few times when the pastor speaking in English would have to pause in the middle of a fiery rant to allow the translator to quietly deliver the Oriya version! In any case, it was nice to be able to understand the content.

Since the service was almost two hours long, I had a lot of time to observe and mull over my thoughts about the experience.

  • The similarity to churches in the U.S. actually made me kind of sad. I was expecting to see a service that was distinctly Christian, but with Indian elements, like maybe Indian-style music or a group meditation. Hinduism is the major religion here in India, but I think that it's more than just a religion, it's a culture. The festivals and superstitions and prayer rituals seem to be part of life in India, intertwined with religion, but separate in some way as well. I just got the feeling during the service that the people in the church turned away from their culture when they converted to Christianity.
  • In a vast majority of situations, we're seen as the outsiders. On one hand, that means that we never get to be true participants and rarely have a full understanding of an experience. On the other hand, the expectations for our behavior and actions are pretty low and we have the opportunity to observe from a safe distance. In yesterday's case, though, the labels that we gave ourselves (outsiders, observers) and the labels assigned to us by the congregation (fellow Christians) were incongruous. There was pressure to participate in the singing and really listen to the sermon that made me feel uncomfortable at times.
  • The church also runs an English-medium school with 300 children in grades pre-K to 12. I think it's great that the church is offering a free English-language education to the community's children. However, it makes me wonder about the true nature of the congregation's faith. Are they true believers in Christianity or do they attend church out of a sense of grateful obligation? Taking into consideration the first point then, is it the case that the church members are trading their culture for a good education for their children?