The congregation’s social environment: its neighborhood and region but also its denomination, networks and other institutions.
A theological frame means looking for how congregations reveal knowledge about God.
The culture of a congregation is its identity, its life together: the activities it does, its artifacts, habits, symbols, and the stories they tell.
The raw materials of congregational life, including: its members, building, reputation, history, its gifts and financial assets.
The congregation’s “way of doing things”: its decision making, leadership; its morale, its power dynamics and patterns of relationship.
Latina/o draw from a rich history of popular religiosity and resistance, intimate knowledge of Biblical texts, and a close personal relationship to God in order to shape the world they want to create. They are clothing the poor, feeding the homeless, driving members to the voting polls, fasting for immigrant rights, and participating in anti-gang activities (amongst many other activities) at a far higher percentage rate than their Catholic counterparts.
And while seminaries and various theological education programs may have prepared us ministers to think theologically, interpret scripture, preach, provide pastoral care, and lead worship and ritual, systems of formal training are just now beginning to move outside of these realms into consciously preparing clergy with the general skills necessary to lead any organization, including congregations.
Whether attenders help others or not is related to things that are within attenders’ control–making friends and engaging in private devotions.
If congregations and their leaders do not equip members with skills to address differences constructively, then there is a greater likelihood that conflict will become harmful.
When families have been part of a community for generations, the stories they share are deep and significant. The places they have lived and worshiped and buried their dead take on a sacred character that goes beyond any doctrine.
The shared racial or ethnic heritage of participants shapes the values, beliefs, and practices that define a congregation’s organizational culture. From the type of music on Sunday morning to the type of food at Wednesday night potlucks, race is present in congregations.
Our religious lives have a geography, at least some of it rooted in our places of worship.
Shouldn’t congregations, whose weekly message usually has something to do with love, grace, forgiveness, or repentance, lead the charge in promoting a less violent culture – especially for the sake of our children?
Attending to the health and functioning of a parish congregation, a religious order, or other church community as a whole will necessarily mean that its members must give up something that would have been good for them as individuals – leisure, economic benefits, even work or living preferences – for the good of the group.
Listen in as Graeme Flett catches up with our project director, Nancy Ammerman, and learn about her own accidental entry into studying congregations as a sociologist of religion.
About Professor Ammerman
Nancy T. Ammerman is project director at StudyingCongregations.org and Professor of Sociology of Religion at Boston University's School of Theology and College of Arts & Sciences. A leading scholar in the field, her research on congregations includes Congregation and Community (1996) and Pillars of Faith: American Congregations and Their Partners (2005)