Why did many Americans become Christians?
Religion in the usa: Church and Faith in Student Exchange
The Christian faith still plays an important role in the lives of many Americans today. In today's guest blog post, our former exchange student Hannah reports on her experiences with church and religion in the USA. She herself lived with her host family in North Carolina in the 2017/18 school year - in the so-called "Bible Belt" of the United States.
You probably know the song "God Bless America", sung for the first time by Kate Smith, which is even one of the unofficial national anthems of the USA. So religion obviously has a higher status in American society than in Germany. During your student exchange in the USA, you may well come to a religious host family who goes to church on a regular basis. So that you are well prepared and (hopefully) not afraid of it, I will give you an overview of the topic of religion & church in the USA below.
Bible Belt: Center for Bible-Faithful Christians
For the majority of Americans, religion is an important part of their life. About 3/4 of the population over the age of 18 belongs to Christianity. Faith definitely plays a major role in the land of unlimited possibilities. There are many, often small, church groups and, especially in rural areas, around 45% of Americans describe themselves as "very religious" and attend church services on a weekly basis.
You may have heard of the Bible Belt before; an area in the United States that stretches largely across the southwestern United States and where religion is an important part of culture. During the 2017/18 school year, I lived as an exchange student in a small village in the state of North Carolina, which is part of the Bible Belt just described.
church service something different
Unlike my family, my host family attended the local church service every Sunday. At first I was skeptical and didn't know what to expect, but the church services in the USA are looser and more unconventional than you might know from Germany.
There was often a band that played live and everyone sang, clapped and sometimes even danced together. The lyrics were displayed on canvases. Making music together was a large part of the service, with the music mostly coming from the genres of rock or pop.
The sermons naturally included many religious aspects, such as stories from the Bible, but mostly topics such as solidarity, humanity and tolerance were discussed. The first sermon I heard dealt with a hot topic at the time. It was essentially about not building walls. On the one hand, this was related to the construction of the wall between the USA and Mexico and, on the other hand, to oneself, i.e. not to “build” a wall to other people. So the lesson was to open oneself to one's fellow men and to confide in them.
The children and young people were not always in service, but instead attended the so-called “Sunday School”, comparable to confirmation classes in Germany. There the stories of the Bible were read and discussed together. In addition, of course, songs were sung and sometimes even games were played.
Community as "community"
After the service, something was often done together. For example, almost every time we ate lunch with a few other families at a Mexican. On special occasions there was a small “party” in the church after the service, with games, cakes and the sweet tea typical of the southern states. On Halloween there was even a big festival in our church, to which the whole village was invited. A large buffet including hot dogs and burgers, lots of sweets and great costumes shaped the evening.
Our youth group sometimes went on excursions together on Saturdays. My personal highlight: hiking in the mountains. Pool parties in summer and movie nights in winter were also quite common. We even drove together to the next largest city, Winston-Salem, for one weekend and took part in a seminar there.
My parish also got involved in social projects and collected donations. One afternoon in the run-up to Christmas, for example, shoe boxes were packed with gifts for children in poor countries, as you may know from Germany.
Religion in the USA - an experience
Even if I was initially suspicious of whether I would like the Church in the United States, in the end I was incredibly grateful that I was allowed to have this experience. With the people from my community there, I was able to experience some of my best moments during my entire year abroad and made great friends! So if you get the chance to attend church services with your host family and take part in excursions, I advise you: take advantage of it!
Thanks to Hannah for this insightful article! If you are also interested in a school year in the USA, you will find all information about our programs on our website. If you have any questions, our high school team is there for you at any time +49 30 84 39 39 93 or at [email protected]
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