This is the Eighth in a series of Guest Posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read the introduction to these posts HERE.

(photo taken by Jianping Yang)

Having attended the Navajo-run Christian Church called Pine Hill several times, I noticed that the number of church goers fluctuates from a dozen to more than twenty. At the time when there were the most attendees, some of them were from outside New Mexico. One cannot conclude that the less frequently people go to Church, the less faithful they are. However, I suppose that if people go to Church regularly, they are probably devoted believers.

The church service is not different from that of any other church: music goes first, next the pastor preaches, and then donation and socialization follow. The difference is that the pastor occasionally uses Navajo language, although the primary language is English. The fact that Navajo language is used makes the church service unique and interesting. To me, the singing in Navajo at the beginning is attractive because belief is expressed in a different language. Someone even suggested I  learn to sing in Navajo, and I thought it would be interesting.

I talked to one family who frequently showed up. The husband told me that he was an artist before. He wasted a lot of money on alcohol. His sons would go to college later this year. When asked what motivated him to encourage his sons to go to college, he said he wouldn’t want his sons to repeat the mistakes he had made. I guess going to Church is a good lifestyle for him to follow.

At one time, food was provided. I asked a Navajo person what the typical Navajo food was. She said it would be the food with mutton. This reminded me of nomadic tribes that typically live on animal products. This characteristic of Navajo food apparently reflects the legacy of the Navajo nomadic tendencies.

Some studies argue that the church’s socialization function is more important than its spiritual one in contemporary American society. It is true that in addition to its spiritual function, Church is also an arena for people to maintain and expand social relations. It creates a space for people to communicate, socially and emotionally. However, I believe the extent the church functions spiritually or socially depends on the location and who the people are.