Culture from Different Perspectives. A Comparison of German and US Church Services and the Success of the TV Series ‘Party of Five’
The term “culture” can be defined in many ways. In these two essays, “culture” is used in the sense of a shared system of attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviour, according to Robert Gibson’s book on “Intercultural Business Communication” and the “Intercultural Communication” course by Mrs. Brown. In addition, for the purpose of this work “culture” refers to the national culture of Germans and US Americans in demarcation to other stratifications of “culture” such as corporate culture, class culture or other types of culture, if not explicitly referred to otherwise. The applied specifications of the German culture and the US culture in these essays are in accordance with the findings of the course and the scrutinized and scientific findings in the book. That does not mean that all Germans or all Americans are like that and fit into these descriptions.
Four hours in another culture
Before I start to describe my experience in a “foreign” culture, I will introduce myself in respect to what feels like “home” or “native” culture to me, in order to display the differences between my home and the foreign culture. Then I will mention the differences between German and US culture and then move on to compare the US national culture with those of a religious subculture in the US by using the diagram by Kluckholm and Stodtbeck. After all, any individual comprises numerous cultural values and is formed by many different types of culture.
I was born in Germany, grew up here and lived most of my time in Germany. My whole family is German and Roman Catholic. In my childhood and youth we all went regularly to church on the weekend. Later I even become an altar girl for a few years until we moved to a different town. Catholic church-service progresses in a strict rule, one that has not changed much within the last couple of hundred years. In my perception, only the preach of sermon and the decision about which songs to sing and which intercessions to read are up to the priest. The service itself usually lasts about an hour. Besides the attending church service, going to confession plays an important role in the Catholic belief. Confession is regarded as the most private, personal and secret act of Catholics at all. When I was 17 years old I went to Huntsville, Alabama, USA as an exchange student. That means that you live in a host family, attend high school and integrate into the everyday life of your hosts. Before I left for Alabama, I read that it was part of the bible belt, but I had no idea what that really means. Among other great experiences, I did not only experience the meaning of bible belt, but in fact, my host family and I, as a new and fully integrated member of the family, lived the bible. My host family (and I) is Baptist and we all attended South Side Baptist Church in Huntsville. In my presentation about this experience I also mentioned bible studies and other activities organized by the Church. However, in this essay I will focus on Sunday church service. Instead of in an ancient, pompous Catholic church, service in South Side Baptist took place in a plain, artless room which appeared very friendly, inviting and convenient. The room was wide, very bright, air-conditioned, the benches had cushions on them and the floor was covered with carpet. What reminded me of being in church were the altar, the cross, a piano and staged galleries. However, before you enter the service (church) room, you dispense your jackets, greet everyone in the lobby (the ones you have not already met in bible study before) and have a little small talk with other church members or the preacher. The preacher, unlike a Catholic priest, might be the leader of the church, but is not at all regarded above other members or higher in hierarchy, although he his highly respected. In South Side Baptist we greeted our preacher with “Hi Rory” and then moved on to talk about last night’s football game or his recent travel to Israel. A Catholic priest gets addressed with “Guten Tag Herr Pfarrer” by younger people and “Euer Hochwürden” by older people. Unlike in a Catholic service where all participants bring their songbook with them, in South Side Baptist we had copies of the lyrics, usually without the notes on our seats. During the songs which where always very rhythmic and catchy (sometimes they used melodies of famous songs like “Candle in the wind” or “Let it be”), most people (including me and Mum who usually emptied rooms by starting to sing) participated enthusiastically, clapped their hands and moved around rhythmically. In those moments of collective singing we all felt like one group, firm as a rock, instead of feeling like an amount of little pebbles. Generally, throughout the whole service, Rory invited all of us to join in, to make comments, to ask for help and to participate in the service. The men usually participated by standing up and screaming “Amen!!!” (all the time) during the sermon when they explicitly wanted to agree to a certain argument or thought. Another time a student who had been in a car wreck asked if anyone could sell or give him an old car that would not be in use anymore. In his sermon, Rory spontaneously picked up the accident topic and preached about unexpected deaths and other theologically aspects that have to do with accidents. Another time he welcomed me as a church member, talked about me, the importance of intercultural exchanges and so forth in his sermon. Overall, Rory’s sermons were very active. Sometimes he used visuals and other items like a huge palm tree and a young tree to support his sermon. At times he acted like an actor by walking around, raising his voice, screaming then calming down again. In any case, he never stood behind a lectern, reading his sermon from the paper. He also included personal experiences in his sermon. One time he talked about the fight he just had with his wife, apologized and preached about how important it is to keep the family together and to personally step back or to make compromises. As regards to confession, Baptists do not have confessions in the sense of receiving absolution afterwards. However, if church members had grave problems, made a terrible mistake, suffered from a bad, unbearable conscience, they walked up to Rory during the service (while the others were singing) or afterwards and told him quietly their concerns. Rory listened, hugged them and then addressed the other church members for example: “Let’s pray for Michael that the Lord will take off Michael’s heavy load.” This “open” confession, well the fact that the whole church knows that you do have something to confess, made me feel uneasy every time someone else got up there to confess. In the end, I was able to take all my guts, and finally walked up there and confessed. Partly I did it because I missed cleaning out my conscience by going to a (Catholic) confession and partly I did it because I knew that this sign of trust would be the biggest pleasure for my family and an honour for South Side Baptist.
Overall, going to church on Sundays, including bible studies in the early morning, small talks in the lobby between bible study and service, the service itself and small talk after the service took about four hours.
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- Magistra Artium Sarah Heitz (Autor), 2005, Culture from Different Perspectives. A Comparison of German and US Church Services and the Success of the TV Series 'Party of Five', München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/308739