by Angie Kay Dilmore
Each person has a unique character with personal preferences for just about everything, including how they experience and express their faith. Whether one is most comfortable in a gothic cathedral, a modern worship center, a mosque or temple, or outdoors in the sanctuary of nature, praising and communing with God is a deeply personal choice. Religious organizations today recognize the importance of meeting individuals’ needs and strive to tailor their worship services to either focus on a specific style or host multiple services that appeal to a variety of people.
Traditional churches tend to have services that hold fast to the heritage of a particular denomination. They sing the old hymns – often accompanied by an impressive pipe organ – and follow a specific order of worship that often includes reciting prayers and professions of faith in unison. Their church buildings are often older and ornate, adorned with stained glass windows. Many traditional churches are considered “mainline” denominations – generally protestant with long histories, such as Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Episcopalian.
Catholic churches also adhere to traditional services, or Mass. Catholics around the world take communion and read the same scripture passages specific for each day. This consistency unifies Catholics worldwide, which many Catholics appreciate. Our Lady Queen of Heaven offers Mass Mon. – Fri. 6:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., a Saturday Vigil Mass at 4:00 p.m., and Sundays at 7:00, 9:00, 11:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. (LifeTeen Mass).
Some Catholics long to return to historic roots and hear Mass in the traditional Latin. This is offered at the Oratory in Sulphur and the Cathedral in downtown Lake Charles. Contemporary services are less structured with modern music and enthusiastic praise, prayer, and worship. They are often attended by younger people and families looking for a different way to experience God. Some Protestant churches have moved away from the traditional format and host contemporary services. Larger churches often have a variety of services, both traditional and contemporary, to appeal to all their members. Trinity Baptist Church in South Lake Charles offers contemporary services at 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. and a blended traditional/contemporary service at 8:30 a.m.
Non-Denominational churches have no affiliation with any organized denomination and are generally contemporary. They’re often progressive and inclusive (aka everyone is welcome) and focused on community service. Water’s Edge Gathering in Lake Charles hosts around 800 in-person attendees and another 1000 or so who watch online each week.
While many churches have relaxed their unspoken but expected dress codes over the decades, “cowboy” churches embrace a more casual, come-as-you-are approach which appeals to people who might be intimidated by more formal churches. Like Open Gate Cowboy Church on Tom Hebert Rd., Lake Charles, these churches are often located in rural farm areas.
Other worship styles include Gospel churches, traditionally found in our African-American communities. Pentecostal/Charismatic churches place more emphasis on the Spirit nature of God and focus on biblical gifts of the Spirit sometimes overlooked by other denominations, such as speaking in tongues. There are Spanish-speaking churches and churches such as Trinity Baptist in South Lake Charles that offer a Sunday service in Spanish at 11:00 a.m.. There’s a Korean Presbyterian Church in Leesville, La.
As believers across the country and here in Southwest Louisiana flock to mega-non-denominational churches, many churches across the country have experienced a decline in membership over the past several decades. While some have opted to close their doors, others have come up with creative solutions, such as renting space in unexpected places like storefronts and event centers. First Presbyterian Church Lake Charles and Grace Point Christian Fellowship (formerly First Christian Church) had shared the latter’s building for six years prior to moving into their newly completed shared worship space called Harvest Community Center in the Morganfield neighborhood.
Countless churches in Southwest Louisiana were severely damaged during Hurricane Laura. This disaster prompted cooperation not only between a variety of Christian denominations, but between different religions. From June 2020 until this past summer, Temple Sinai had gathered at Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd (returning a favor from 1918). Down in lower Cameron Parish, the congregations of three destroyed Catholic churches are combining into one church.
Religions other than Christian are also represented in Southwest Louisiana. In addition to the Jewish community at Temple Sinai, the Islamic Center of Lake Charles is the only mosque between Lafayette and Beaumont, serving 800-1000 devotees. And there are several Buddhist temples in the Lafayette area.
Culture and worship styles are not the only considerations when choosing a church home. Each church has its own way of outwardly demonstrating the love of God beyond the church walls and into the community. Churches might host food pantries, homeless ministries, prison outreach, or international mission. They might focus on local community service and helping people rebuild after the storms. When looking for a church home, a person might strive to match their personal passions to a church’s mission-mindedness. For every believer or seeker, there is a church where he or she can feel at home.
Religious Affiliations in Louisiana
• Protestant (57%)
• Catholic (26%)
• Other Christian (1%)
• No religion (13%)
• Buddhism (1%)
• Other religion (1%)
• Don’t know (1%)