Saturday, October 19, 2013

Religious Climate Questionnaire

Jennifer Fulwiler, Conversion Diary, annually asks the following questions about the religious climate in various areas where her followers live.

I think I am very lucky to be living in San Ignatio (real name: San Jaun Bautista; I had to conceal the location in my book, Blest Atheist, in order to protect some people).

Here are my answers to Jennifer's questions. What are yours? Trek on over to Jennifer's blog and leave your responses. (You can also leave them in a comment here, too.)

1. Where do you live?
San Juan Bautista, California (an old mission town near the central coast of California), population 1700; the name means St. John the Baptist; it was founded on the feast day of St. John the Baptist, and the only two statues in town are of SJB and Fr. Junipero Serra, the Franciscan friar who founded most of the California missions.

2. What is church attendance like? Are there many churches?
There are two churches: a large Catholic church and a very tiny Protestant church.

The Catholic church is an old Spanish (Franciscan) mission, which is the largest of the 23 missions in California.The mission is the center of nearly all town activity. Most people in town attend church and are members of the parish. Our priest commented in his homily this evening that there is a good regularity to life when he can look out and see the same people in the same pews on the same day at the same time each week.

Pictures of Old Mission San Juan Bautista and statue of St. John the Baptist
inside the mission during the solstice when the light from the rising sun streams down the middle aisle

There is also a Franciscan convent and a Franciscan monastery, as well as a Franciscan retreat center. The friars and nuns are actively involved in the community and church, and the community is actively involved in the activities and support of the retreat center.

Sisters of the Atonement Convent

St. Francis Retreat Center

There is a very tiny Protestant church that might hold a couple dozen people.

Protestant church: small building with spire

3. How appropriate would it be for a person to acknowledge that he or she is a believing Christian in casual conversation?
Quite appropriate, but quite unnecessary; it is assumed. Even a casual visitor, especially during the Christmas season, can tell.

the main street at Christmas; placard is of a saint; each one is different
lamp post with saint's placard on the main street

4. What kind of faith do the politicians claim to practice?
We have very few politicians; as far as I know, all are Christian. There is a small city council (five people); all are members of our parish. There is a mayor, typically one of the business owners and a member of the parish. We have no police department or sheriff's office. A deputy sheriff for the county, who lives in town (grew up here) and is a member of the parish, keeps an eye on the town on a part-time basis; his part-time hours are purchased from the county. We have a newspaper -- about 8 pages, comes out monthly; the editor is a member of our parish. Our school is part of a larger school district with surrounding towns, so the school board is not integral to our town. We have no senators or representatives from our town -- they all represent a larger area of which we are a small part. We do not have a court although we do have one attorney; he is a member of our parish. Well, you get the picture...

5. How common would it be to see a family with more than three kids? What are the attitudes toward family size?
It is uncommon to see a family with fewer than three kids. Many families have 5-8 children. Partly because the town is mostly Catholic and partly because it is highly Mexican (we have both English and Spanish Masses, as well as mixed-language Masses on holy days of obligation), there are no "attitudes" of any sort toward family size, large or small. 

6. What was the dominant belief system in your area 50 years ago? What is it now?
Catholic then. Catholic now. Catholic since the town was founded 214 years ago -- and in 214 years, not one day has passed without daily Mass (apparently, a national record). The town was featured in the movie, Vertigo, filmed in 1954, in which Jimmy Stewart tells Kim Novak, "There is a little town 100 miles south of San Francisco, called San Juan Bautista, that has not changed in 100 years." Whenever the movie is shown locally (usually every summer on the grassy square in front of the church -- there are no movie theaters, bowling alleys, fast food joints, or malls here), everyone laughs because the town, as seen in that movie, looks exactly like the town today. It has now not changed in 160 years! Even the grove of eucalyptus trees right before the turnoff into town is still there, as is the stable and the courtroom, although neither is any longer used and both have become part of the state park of historic buildings.

Jimmy Stewart in our mission church (note: arches temporarily filled in for 1954 earthquake repair; now opened up again)

eucalyptus grove, shown in Vertigo as north of SJB, is actually immediately south of SJB -- still looks the same

Stewart and Nowak in the stable; even the model horse (not seen) to the left of Nowak is the same

the courtroom as shown in Vertigo

 7. Do the people where you live seem happy with their lives?
Yes. It is a small, quiet, calm place. No crime to speak of. No gangs as in some of the cities not far from us. About the only "action" in town is the mission -- Mass, catechism, prayer groups, etc. That and arguing over whether the feral Mexican chicken population should be thinned out or left alone.

a typical street gathering of chickens

local chickens crossing the main street

our local shopping area

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