A Day at the Sacred Heart Church
NEW CULTURAL EXPERIENCE TSL5525
ADay at the Sacred Heart Church
Culture has many definitions,different faces, and can be seen in different aspects it all dependson one’s experiences of culture. Culture is defined as the“evolving way of life of a group of persons, consisting of a sharedset of practices associated with a shared set of products, based upona shared set of perspectives on the world, and set within specificsocial contexts” (Moran 2001). Culture can be viewed in terms ofknowing and understanding the products, practices, and perspectivesof a group of persons and communities. Understanding culture shouldnot only be in the abstract form, but should also have a meaning ofexperiencing the culture and being an active participant of theculture.
Inorder to understand a culture, a person might consider being involvedin a cultural experience where one will absolutely have the chance tohave a clear vision and a deep insight of the target culture intendedto understand. In this paper, I’m assigned to take the role ofobserver-participant of a totally new cultural experience. As an ArabMuslim student in the states, I decided to visit a church andexperience a firsthand cultural involvement that I have neverexperienced. This was a great opportunity because my country has nochurches at all. I spent a day at the Sacred Heart Church in downtownTampa and attended a catholic wedding on the Valentine’s Day. Iinitially did not plan to attend the wedding, but I was lucky sinceit gave me more details about the cultural aspects I was observing.
The Sacred Heart Church wasbuilt in 1905 and is the oldest church in the Tampa area. It has sucha unique architecture that Iwould encourage everyone to go and see to really get a strongappreciation for vintage architectural style. Upon approaching thechurch, the first thing I observed was that the building has beentaken from a time in history and blended with modern architecture toenhance it. If you look around this building and examine the othersurrounding skyscraper buildings, you will see that there may havebeen a great attempt to merge the past with the present.
The pillarswere used as a form of architectural decor on the outside, which isquite similar to the Islamic pillars of mosques. This is one of thesimilarities of the Semitic religions that I noticed. The church isfar larger inside than it appears from the outside. With itscathedral ceiling and large pillars that stretch from the ground allthe way up to the structures that hold the ceilings in place as wellas the walls. It was filled with inscriptions, captions, engravings,and idols that represent the catholic artifacts.
When Istepped into the church, it seemed empty until a person showed upholding a towel and cleaning the chairs. I later on realized thatthis person is the priest of that church. Since no one else wasthere, I had a chance to look at every single thing and capture thedetails. I could hear the church songs playing at the back. The songshad a relaxing tone that I could connect to some that are played inAmerican movies. I did not recognize any aroma scents or any smellthat I can relate with the church.
I spoke tothe priest and asked him if there were any activities that I couldattend on that day. Luckily for me, he said there was going to be awedding in two hours time, and I was welcome. This was a goldenopportunity to observe the catholic people and their practices inchurch. I made it my business to familiarize myself with all theactivities that take place in a church wedding. I was advised to siton the left side of the aisle.
Peoplestarted showing up half an hour before the ceremony. Once they stepin and before sitting down, they prayed by touching their foreheadand two shoulders, making a cross sign as I learned later. People satrandomly except the family of the bride and the groom who sat in thefirst front rows. The weather was cold and the ladies were wearingexposed light dresses. There was no one receiving the guests exceptthe wedding planner who was in charge of the ceremony. I wasexpecting people to talk and greet each other but all I noticed werepeople exchanging warm smiles. The relationship between the peoplewho led in the church (priest, singer, and speaker), and the guestswas cold. I did not notice any interconnection between them exceptthat the workers were busy doing their duties.
In order tofully understand the culture, a person must observe closely thetarget culture then build up his or her own perspectives. Honestly, Iwas really afraid of the reaction and the extent of acceptance Imight have in the church being a female Muslim who can be easilyrecognized by the Hijab. To my relief, I was welcomed and wasregarded just like any other guest. Ten minutes before the weddingceremony, the head minister of church sat in the row in front of me.This gave us a chance to communicate and we had a very friendlyconversation about being in Tampa as a Muslim and how people receivedme. I was expecting him to inform me about Christianity or in someway compare the two religions, but he did not.
Thesurprising fact I observed earlier is that person who was cleaningthe church was indeed a priest of the church. How humble of him! Ihad chatted with this man without introducing himself. In fact, Ithought he was a common servant doing his daily duties. I onlydiscovered his position in the church when he changed his outfits andwore the costumes of a priest.
Having comefrom a Muslim background, I realized that people relate differentlyin churches. Unlike us who greet each other warmly and hold friendlyconversations, Christians seemed a bit distant. They acted as if theydid not know each other and barely spoke. This was strange because Ithought people interacted and socialized a lot in church.
The othersurprising thing is that I only saw four children in the entirewedding. This was strange to me because I expected as many childrenas adults. I thought that weddings were attended by the entirefamily. However, it seemed I was wrong. I had so many questions thananswers because what I saw was contrary to my expectations. I hadonly attended Muslim weddings, which are totally different fromChristian ones. To some point I felt as if I was a gate crasher eventhough I was welcomed to attend the wedding ceremony in church.
As a meansof understanding this cultural experience, I chose a catholic churchthat has a huge unique historical status in Tampa area. This gave anopportunity to observe everything about catholic and miss nothing. Ifelt that a smaller church would not do me the justice ofexperiencing a totally new culture. Before choosing this church Imade some research about it in order to have a basis for experience.
Tounderstand a totally new culture, you need to participate in thetarget culture. Therefore, visiting the church was the ideal way ofdealing with the situation. I helped the priest and other servants toset the chairs while chatting. I stood respectfully for the priest,listened to his speech, and the choir singing. I saw how the weddingis organized and performed from the entry of the bridesmaids and thebride. The bridesmaids make a way for the bride, who enters thechurch in the company of her parents. The groom awaits his bride infront of the church. When the bride and the groom are finallytogether on the altar, the priest begins the ceremony and joins themtogether. They exchange rings and vows before proceeding to sign themarriage certificate. This marks the climax of the wedding ceremony.Nothing is more celebrated than this part of the ceremony. At thispoint, even if the ceremony stops, the marriage has already been madeofficial.
Somethingthat stroke me was the little interaction between the brides’s andgroom’s people. Although the faces shone, the happiness was shortof my expectation. The kind of interaction that I saw was totallydifferent from what I usually see in Muslim weddings. The joy did notseem to flatter me. For a moment I forgot this was a wedding. Thecouple was happy, but people looked unbothered. I wondered whetherthis is how people conduct their wedding in churches.
I alsonoticed a strange thing. It was evident that people did not takenotice of me. They barely reckoned me and some went to an extent ofshowing some disapproval of my attendance. However, the workers werevery welcoming and showed great respect to me. I could sense that thechurch servants had a great tolerance for Muslims. While the weddingattendees saw me as an outsider, the church servants saw me as a lostsheep that was tracking back its way back. This is what one of theservants openly told me. They assumed that may be I would beinterested in being a member of the church.
Thiscultural experience came handy with new experiences. I clearlyunderstood some of the things that I had questions about. My ideas,thoughts, and opinions of catholic changed. I feared that I would bediscriminated because of my religion. However, the church servantsproved me wrong. They were kind and even told me that I would go backif I wanted to. They expelled my fears of religious intolerant, andshowed that they respect people and their ways of life. I must admitI was impressed with the kind of warm welcome I received. I learnt alot in that single day to an extent that I felt as if I belonged.
This newcultural experience has given me some insights about Catholic Churchand its members. I cannot really say that a single day is enough tolearn about a new culture, but I also cannot deny the fact that Ilearnt a lot. I intend to continue with my quest of knowing moreabout these friendly people who do not mind my religious background.I will attend more weddings and church services to enrich myknowledge about this new culture.
Moran, P. R., & Lu, Z. (2001). Teaching culture: Perspectives in practice. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.