missing church

I missed church last week, which, you know, is weird. Miles was sick—and not just runny-nose sick. Straight up Clint-Eastwood-voice sick. So we stayed home.

I know I’m different from most people in that I hate missing a Sunday morning service. A quick Google search tells me that only 38% of Americans go to church regularly, and, since there are people who feel at least some guilt regarding church (shocking, I know!), we can safely assume that a few of those people might have exaggerated their attendance in a phone interview with a stranger.

I have been going to church regularly since I was a child. In fact, I can’t really remember a time during which I didn’t go. I can remember times that I didn’t particularly like going. Yes, I can remember those times.

The routine of going to a Sunday morning service is probably at least part of the reason I enjoy going so much. On my way there (which, right now, is a 20-minute drive), I often think about the segment of the population for whom church is not a part of their Sunday routines. I wonder what these people do with their extra time. I imagine them washing their cars and playing catch in the yard, but this is idealistic—a “grass is always greener” type of thing. If I had the extra time, I would probably just be watching The Vampire Diaries or checking Facebook more.

I certainly don’t judge people who don’t go to church. You know me: I’ll admit when I internally judge someone for something. Like if they haven’t read The Great Gatsby. Or even worse, if they didn’t like The Great Gatsby. But I get that people have complex histories with faith, that some people don’t claim faith at all, and that some people have just been to some really terrible churches. All of these reasons have valdity to them, and I would much rather have a good long discussion (with someone like you) about the “whys” of the matter than go door-to-door trying to coerce people into church attendance. (On a related but also random note, I totally remember harassing the poor Jehovah’s Witness boys who would come to our house. My brother and I would talk in old lady voices through the door. We fooled… wait, let me count… no one.)

I do think people who don’t go are missing out, though, because when church is done right, it’s basically like hanging out with your friends. Actually, it’s way more than that. It is life-giving in that you feel a sense of unity with a particular people. Acceptance. Grace. Goodness. And what you’re all unified in doing is what the Christian community calls “worship.” This part is, perhaps, the most difficult part to put into words. The only thing I can think to say is that, in the few churches where I felt this unity most, moving on to a different place was difficult. When we made the move from California to Kansas City, for instance, saying goodbye to our little church of 25 people or so was one of the most difficult days. They had become a part of us: even the crazy lady who played the piano and sometimes chimed in with that pastor during the sermon a la Paul Schaeffer and David Letterman.

So it was good to be with our church family again this Sunday. And I don’t use the phrase “family” lightly. They bring us casseroles when we have babies, they sing awkwardly off-key, they hook us up with hand-me-down kids’ clothes, they sometimes dip their fingers into the communion juice.

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11 thoughts on “missing church

  1. I only “dip” in order to retrieve a bread-floatie. And I missed YOU. People sat in your spot… and I allowed this b/c you were absent.

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  3. I’m not sure if this goes more with your post or Maria’s response to your post, but I’ll put it here b/c you know me mo’better.

    I think the thing that is cool is that in a church, the people who bring you casseroles and hand-me-downs are not necessarily your friends. In fact, they might even bug you. But it’s church, and we’ve made this commitment to one another. And this commitment is really good for us. This commitment to people that I only sometimes like and try really hard to love helps me to stay. And stick. And be loyal to wife-me, and mother-me, and friend-me.

    I know that there is forgiveness with my church peeps. It’s not just in theory, it’s tested.

    This is different than the other world that I live in.

    I really like all of my heathen friends too, (that’s a joke… the “heathen” part). But I wish that I could take the Lord’s Supper with them, that we could serve it to each other and have to swallow that crusty bit of grace, choking it down while we look into each other’s eyes and know, really know, that we don’t know what we did to get here, but that we are so glad we are.

    • I can’t agree more on this. I grew up spending hours a week in church with my grandfather who was (and still is at 95)  a Presbyterian minister. While I was too young to really realize that I was growing up in a place that knew how to  “do it right”, it didn’t take me long to realize what a struggle it becomes to stay connected when a church that was once filled with such community, life and so much “right” takes a downward spiral (which is exactly what happened after my grandfather retired). The first minister that was called upon to replace him was dismissed due to drug addiction (yes, addiction afflicts even those that have committed their life to God) and the permanent minister, who remains there today (20 some years later), while a very nice man, has sat by as the church that I once loved has died a slow death; preparing to close their doors forever in 2012 due to lack of membership, life, and quite frankly, “right”.
          I have been in and out of a LOT of church doors in a handful of states over the years. None of them gave me what I was looking to recapture (a.k.a. the “doing it right” thing). I usually left feeling like I had been in a town hall meeting (maybe having something to do with the fact that people sat around clapping as people announced really important things like that their grandson had won first place at their local swim meet or it was so and so’s birthday today…really??!!), in a Stepford’s wives community church (in the Buckhead area of Atlanta to be exact) were everyone looked the same in that they all look about as close to “perfect” as is humanely possible; or just plain and simple, feeling completely numb. As a result, my own children really didn’t grow up with any sense of church “family” and, quite frankly, I was fine with that because I had come to believe that I was better off teaching them about God myself than having them learn it through a church that I knew in my heart didn’t have it “right” (not so much in their words, but rather in their actions…or lack their of). 
           We moved to California 2 years ago  (yes, where I was lucky enough to be connected with Maria) and through my daughter (yes, the one who never really grew up in the church) found our way home to an amazing church that is definitely “doing it right”. Yes, it has a lot to do with the amazing minister, but it has more to do with the amazingly compassionate group of people…for in reality, the people are the church. It is the people who take church beyond the physical structure out into the world. When a church is “doing it right”, the focus is more outward than inward (in my opinion). By reaching out to those less fortunate than ourselves, the inside work happens naturally. Trust me, it’s been a LONG search (19 years to be exact), but I can attest to the fact that there are churches out there that are “doing it right”. My children are learning to think outside themselves…to give of themselves, and in doing so, to change lives for the better. Now when I count my greatest blessings, I can honestly say that I count our church home right after our own home for all of the “right” that it brings into our life and the lives of others less fortunate than our family. 

       

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  6. Sara, Thanks for that awesome response. I’ve been part of some soul-crushing churches, too. You’re right: it makes all the difference in the world!

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