By Megan Camp
No matter the country or culture, worship experiences can vary greatly from church to church. During my month long stay in Rome, Italy, I was able to experience and view worship experiences very different from my experiences at home in the United States of America. A large portion of my experiences derived from the Roman Catholic culture that is prevalent in the Italian lifestyle. My time abroad has exposed me to worship environments and traditions that I would not have encountered at home.
I was able to attend a Sunday morning service at Rome Baptist Church in Rome, Italy. My time at this church was one of the most enriching and spiritually satisfying experiences of my time abroad. The church was founded by an International Mission Board missionary couple. The husband is now the pastor of this church; however, he did not preach on the Sunday that I attended. Due to the church’s Southern Baptist roots, many aspects of the service were very familiar to me since I attend a Southern Baptist church at home. However, I was in awe at the diversity present within the church. Most churches in the United States cater to a certain type of people and those are the people who fill the church. This was the most diverse church I have ever come into contact with. The sanctuary was full of people from all over the world who spoke a multitude of languages all gathered together due to their common faith in Christ.
I have never seen a church that more accurately portrays what I have read in scripture. Romans chapter fourteen verse eleven states, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to Me, and every tongue will give praise to God.” People from all over the world gathered in this one church on that day to worship God and learn more about Him. This is a beautiful and awe inspiring thing. The worship was calm and they used basic hymns but the focus of their praise was evident. The simplicity of the music and the words allowed the people from the many nations to give their focus to God during their time of praise.
During my visit to this church, the evangelical tone and mission of the congregation was extremely evident. As one of the few Christian churches in a Catholic city, I believe the people were aware of their interesting and important position in the city of Rome. They hold Bible studies in many languages to reach out to as many people as possible. The church serves the community on a regular basis and even allows other Christian churches to use their space for Baptism services when the need arises.
A large part of the Italian culture revolves around the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is not an evangelical church by nature. They appear closed off and hardened to the public instead of warm and open as an evangelical church should be. From what I observed during my time in Rome, the Catholic Church is extremely rooted in their traditions which does not appear welcoming to nonbelievers. The church is more concerned with maintaining appearances than reaching new people. The Christian churches I came into contact with during my time abroad were the exact opposite. These churches do everything within their power to help and reach out to the community. The largest area of evangelical work I witnessed was in the field of refugee ministry. One church is home to a refugee center, one church prepares meals to be given to the refugees, and one church donates their space for baptism services. The Christian churches in Rome are evangelical minded and are in stark contrast to the more prominent Catholic Churches.
My worship experiences in Italy were very different but also similar to my experiences at home. The emphasis and dominance of the Catholic Church was one of the main differences. Protestant churches are the predominate Christian churches present in the United States of America. I have known people who are Catholics and have visited Catholic churches in the past but I have never been a part of a culture where the Catholic Church is so important. The importance of this church has a large impact on the worship practices of the country. Catholics do not worship God in the same manner that Protestants do. Catholic worship is focused on tradition and the importance of the priest whereas Protestant worship is focused on the individual experiencing the presence of God and praising God directly. Catholic worship is often done through prayers to saints and confessions made to priests. The worship service at Rome Baptist Church was similar to worship services at home. They sang songs from the Baptist hymnal and there was an overall feeling of comfort and fellowship. The main difference was found in the diversity of the congregation. It was breathtaking to experience a worship service filled with different dialects and languages all worshipping and praising God.
My time in Italy exposed me to a new realm of worship. I have never been in an environment so impacted and dependent on the Roman Catholic Church. People flock to the Vatican to simply get a glimpse of the Pope and spend hours waiting to hear him speak. Catholic services are full of tradition and routine whereas Protestant churches are filled with expressions of faith and love. The Protestant churches in Rome are a small sample of what the church in Heaven will be like and I cannot wait to experience the real thing.