Religion–Maybe It Is Just a Southern Thing

Two stories.

A few years ago I was at a vestry meeting at church. A woman no one recognized came wandering down the hall. I went out to see if she needed help.

“I’m looking for the AA meeting.”

“Oh, it’s in another building.”

I showed her where to go.

“They told me it was in the church,” she said. “But there’s a church on every corner in this town.”

When I went back to the vestry we (perhaps unfairly) surmised that she was from California.

A couple of weeks ago I was showing some cousins from Michigan around Franklin. One is a chaplain at a college and the other is a minister. We stopped to see the sanctuary at my church. The building is old and the sanctuary only holds about 200. (Fewer in the winter when people are wearing coats and sweaters.)

“So do you have a full-time priest?” one cousin asked.

“Ha, we have three,” I replied. “And four services every Sunday.”

He was a little surprised that this small church supported so many priests and said something to the effect that we “know how to do church” in the south.

In my travels, especially in England, I’ve been to many tiny ancient churches. The kind of places that contain more history than the whole of the U.S. Places where, as the Celts would say, the air is thin because of all the prayers that have gone up from that place.

But these churches are empty most Sunday mornings because they share a priest with the rest of the parish.

In these parts, religion is a going concern. Most people I know are church-goers, albeit to the traditional Protestant faiths–Presbyterian, Methodist and Episcopalian.

What we also have around here are a few megachurches. Places that would’ve been called Baptist 20 years ago, but how have distinctively nondenominational names. They definitely lean to the conservative side, and, from what I’ve been told, walk a thin line when it comes to supporting political candidates and maintaining their nonprofit status.

I don’t read any really “religious” blogs. I do, however, read the blogs of some religious people. But by and large the blogs I read are by people who profess no religion at all and they live all around the world.

So that’s why I’m wondering…is it Southern thing?

22 Comments

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22 responses to “Religion–Maybe It Is Just a Southern Thing

  1. lashlee

    I would lean towards, “yes.” We are the supermarket of churches in the South. We have every variety, generic or name brand. However, I see these shows on tv evangelizing from their churches on TV from all over, especially that mega one from Texas. Texas, by the way, is not “southern,” contrary to what some think. I hear my northern friends talk about their churches and they are mainly nondenominational. My conclusion, albeit very uninformed, is that we, the South, are the Superstore of churches. We have every flavor that you may be looking for, other places just have what’s popular. Right now that seems like the “mega” church.

  2. Pingback: Religion–Maybe It Is Just a Southern Thing « Here In Franklin Travel university

  3. For me, it’s a North American thing. Not even Italy can hold a candle to you guys.

  4. Largely, yes. I’m from the north (OH/PA). Many of us go to church up there but religion is mostly a private thing done on weekends. We don’t talk about it unless you are a religious nut. I was taken aback when I moved down here and one of the first questions people asked was where I go to church. And people coming to my door wanting to pray for me/save me/invite me! Gah! At least twice a month – it is a nuisance (and they send their children to the door so we’ll answer). The only people who do that in the north are the Jehovah’s Witnesses and we don’t answer the door.

    The other thing I’ve noticed is lack of more liberal “brands”. I grew up in the United Church of Christ (very very different from Church of Christ). We are pretty laid back and our brand of God is pretty unwrathful. That doesn’t exist here. In my town, south of yours, 75% are CoC, 1 each of the other assorted players.

  5. Oh my friend, let me tell you a tale of an Oklahoma born and raised southern Baptist, hell fire and brimstone, pounding on the pulpit kinda girl who ended up in Milwaukee where you have the choice of Catholic or reformed Catholic.

    Hallelujah sista. They don’t seem to have many traditional Protestant churches here. They are the rock and roll, lets all cater to the non-believer kind of churches that hesitate to even display a cross upon their real estate.

    Hence – there is a place for everything and everyone under the sun, no matter where ye may roam. The trick is finding it.

  6. What Pueblo Girl said: It’s a North American thing. And religion seems to have been growing stronger and stronger. I don’t remember such fervour when I was younger. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

  7. PS – Just to expound on how thick and strong the religious reputation of N.America is … the rest of the world thinks of the USA as full of zealots. Even the part of the world where young men cross themselves when they walk by a Catholic church (I shit you not).

  8. just north of the Ohio River, and i find it to be a mix. a hefty percentage of ‘weekend only’ Christians, complimented by a vocal batch of ‘fire and brimstone’, 24/7, “my God’s better than your God” noisemakers.

    since i work in a conservative sector, but spend my nights and weekends hanging out with the hippie fringe (ie: theater, musicians), i see a bit of both sides.

    my time in the south, however, leads me to agree that y’all “know how to do church” down there!

  9. My 2 cents is that church is more accepted topic of conversation in the South, at least to judge from my Miss. hometown. There’s much more of an assumption that you go to church (and are Christian) than there is up here in the New York burbs. I can’t imagine asking anyone here (or in Miss., for that matter), “What was the sermon about at your church this morning?,” a question I’ve actually been asked down South.

    That said, parking lots at churches and synagogues here look pretty full on days when there are services–except in the summer!

  10. There’s one religion themed blog I read. It’s written by a guy I grew up with (we used to go to the same church). He’s a reflective evangelical. You should check it out. He posts a lot of random stuff and doesn’t always write – sometimes just quotes others or things he’s reading, but I always enjoy checking in. I find his point of view refreshingly unpredictable. http://www.findingrhythm.com/blog/

  11. I’ve been to your area many times, and I can tell you it is radioactively religious, a hotbed of mega-churches brewing political mischief. Another one of those is Colorado Springs. Alaska has looked pretty scary since the eighties, too. So, I tremble to think that it is an American thing and no less worrisome than its counterpoint in Iran.

    My son, who lives near you, has asked me if I would like to move to Franklin/Nashville when I require assisted living, so that he can be available to me. I answered that I was scared to death of the hyperreligiousity of his region; if the evangelical loonies feel free to assault a hale human at the grocery store and ask them, “where do you church?,” then what would they do to a poor old woman who can’t think straight and who can’t defend herself from them?

    Are there no Unitarian-Universalists in Franklin?

    It’s not the South, honey, it’s the Stupid.

  12. Julie

    Oh yes, we southerners have it bad down here (or over here, as the case may be). Two of my own thoughts about all these brands of religion: first, I think I’d rather run into one of the “born agains” in a dark alley than some other wordly types one might find there, and second, I just hope and pray (oh yeah!) that God has a great sense of humor.

  13. I don’t want to reduce an entire section of the nation to a stereotype but, yes, I think the south is far more religious than the rest of the nation. I think it’s a deeper part of the culture there. I don’t have any hard facts but I’ll bet you’ll find a preponderance of mega churches below the Mason-Dixon.

  14. Wow–nothing like a little religion to get the comments flowing. Let me make a couple of statements.
    1. I have lived in the Bible belt my entire life and have never heard a priest or preacher at any church I ever attended speak of hell or damnation.
    2. I have never had a stranger come up to me in the grocery store and ask me what church I went to.
    3. The only proselytizers who have ever rung my doorbell were either Mormon or Jehovah Witness–one based in Utah and the other founded in Pennsylvannia.
    Lashlee–You are right–a little something for everyone in these parts.
    PG–I agree–we do take it a little more seriously than the rest of most of the world.
    Michelle–As I stated above, I’ve never encountered the “wrathful God” you’re speaking of. And there are plenty of liberal “brands” down here. Like old money, they’re just a little quieter.
    Zen–You know, the more I get to know you, the more I think your name is quite apt. You’re a wise one, for sure.
    Ellie–Are you shitting me? 🙂
    Zealot is not a word I’m comfortable with.
    DF–Straddling two worlds certainly gives you a healthy glimpse into both, and certainly makes you a more well-informed person.
    Susie-You’ve seen both sides of the coin for sure. And I have to admit that my own attendance slacks off in the summer as well.
    Blues–If you recommend it, I’ll check it out for sure. Thanks for the link.
    LouLou–Thanks for visiting Franklin, but may I suggest that you may be more comfortable retiring somewhere else. May I suggest Houston or Memphis where you’re more likely to be asked for your purse rather than where you go to church. And to answer your question, yes, there are Universalist and Unitarian churches in the area. There are also Wiccans and Druids. Take your pick.
    Julie–Geez, can you believe that?
    UB–It’s not stereotyping if it’s true. As for megachurches, I’m not sure of the definition, but I tend to think you’ll find more in California and Texas. I saw an entire display in the DFW airport Sunday devoted to Joel Osteen.

  15. Katie Barbarossa

    Thank God !!! It is one of the main reasons we’ll be moving to your neck o’ the woods in the next year or so from Southern Cal!! I can’t wait… sick and tired of minimizing God and maximizing ‘self’…
    SO done with that… AMEN for the South!!

  16. I don’t know, man, Chicago has an overabundance of churches, but they’re Catholic and they’re everywhere. Lots of Ukrainian and Greek Orthodox churches, Latin services, and synagogues. Within a half mile radius from my apartment there’s at least eight churches with services all day Saturday and Sunday.

    But then in the richer, more affluent Chicago neighborhoods there’s maybe two per square mile.

  17. Katie–Thanks for visiting Franklin. Holler if you move near here, I’ll be happy to show you around.
    Rass–I wonder how full most of those Catholic churches are? I personally would find it hard to be a Catholic and know lots of people who have opted for other religions. But, whatever floats your boat.

  18. In short? Yes. Maybe the Midwest as well. But certainly overseas, the majority of people don’t go to church at all, and the majority of those that do go on big holy days. And the church(es) certainly doesn’t have much, if any, political power. And for the latter, thank goodness.

    That being said, I see the advantage of church and when the boys are a bit older, I’ll probably seek one out to at least give them the exposure to religion. What brand, don’t know yet, but I think they should have a chance to make an informed decision.

  19. Are churches usually air conditioned? That simple fact might get me going this summer! 😉

  20. AFM–In my work with the youth at church, we always find that the kids who are made to be there are the ones that resent it. Giving your kids an option is a good move on your part. (In my humble opinion, that is. )
    Elle–Down here they are, for sure. Can’t speak for other places. Best to avoid anything advertised as a “tent revival” though.

  21. Catholicism is booming in Chicago.

  22. So I’m a little late to join the conversation … but I’m just wondering what we do with the researched statistic that in the US, Christianity is on the decline, especially in the mainline denominations?

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