Spanish photographer Ricardo Cases came to Maryland and spent three days documenting the worship at two evangélico churches for TIME: La Roca de la Eternidad, Rock of Eternity Church, and Iglesia Cuadrangular el Calvario, Calvary Foursquare Church (to read the new TIME cover story, available to subscribers, click here). If you visit either, you may feel more like you are at religious revival in Latin America than at a Sunday service just a half hour from Washington, D.C. But these churches are not exceptions. Born-again, Latino Protestants are on the rise in the United States. More than 40% of Hispanic evangelicals in the United States converted from Catholicism, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Evangélico worship styles differ greatly from the traditional Catholic mass. There are rock bands, streamers, tambourines, flags, dancing, and loud praying. Sometimes there is even prophesying or fainting in God’s presence. It was a new experience for Cases. “Although I am not religious, my education is Catholic, and I only know the Catholic Church ceremonies in which everything happens in a more linear way, less expressive and more boring,” Cases says.
His images capture the blend of intensity, isolation, and fiesta that is often part of the evangélico experience. Both La Roca and El Calvario are more than just venues for Sunday worship. They have become homes for people far from their homeland, and worship services are sacred yet familial. “For me, it was a surprise, the great contrast between the moments before the service, and the service itself,” Cases reflects. “Attendees moved from a festive mood to a dramatic one in minutes.”
The shoot itself was a reminder that evangélico worship in the United States is inextricably linked to the immigrant experience. One moment said it all. When Cases was playing with the little kids at one of the El Calvario services, they wanted to know his name. He teased them and replied: “Obama.” They all started yelling, Obama! Obama! Then one little boy, maybe six or seven years old, asked in broken in English: “Hey! Obama! Can you give me a resident?”
Elizabeth Dias is a writer-reporter for TIME. Find her on twitter @elizabethjdias.
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