When I moved to Northwest Arkansas, I found out that morning Bible study met at Starbucks (not just for soccer moms and unemployed grad students anymore!). I also found out that people from the same church who live in the same neighborhood form little social groups that meet outside of Sundays and do things together that have nothing to do with church. Also found out that Catholic = diverse — unless you live in Springdale — in this bastion of Baptists, Methodists, Evangelicals and Mormons. Who knew?
I also found out pretty quickly that it’s not just Sunday morning that is a little slow to start, but all of Sunday is fairly sleepy around here. More stores than you’d expect are closed, and alcohol sales are a no-go. Makes me nostalgic for my Massachusetts blue laws. Amazingly, The Bay State and The Natural State were on the same page here until recently.
All this is to say that religion is a much bigger and more overt part of daily life in this part of the country, and while I always knew that, experiencing it provides another level of understanding. Think what I react to is the general homogeneity of the region moreso than the religion; the heavy spirituality is just a manifestation of everyone being fairly similar compared to other population samples.
Taking a step back, it’s important to remember that this little corner of the world, while rapidly developing, is still quite rural. An influx of different groups comes with the development, but it’s all very recent. My dad said this area reminds him of Scottsdale, AZ in the 1950s and 60s. Boom Town, USA is apparently where I now reside.
I grew up in a place where there were many religions and culturally, it’s generally a ‘live and let live’ situation whether we’re talking about the deity you do (or don’t) pray to, your political affiliation, or something in between. It’s no bastion of perfection, but the melting pot effect kicked in a while ago. If you root for the Yankees, however, the toleration rules are null and void — but that’s for another day.
On a different note, I never totally understood what a holy roller was before moving here, or that becoming a pastor can be a career choice just like becoming a fireman or an accountant or a nurse. I’m sure many will disagree with me and protest that one must always be ‘called’ to the cloth…but given how many guys hang out a shingle, rent a corrugated-tin-walled warehouse and make a cable TV ad inviting the churchin’ kind to their house of worship, I have to believe there’s a little financial analysis going on behind the scenes.
One church, two church, three church, four.
Five church, six church, seven church, more.