Reflectionary

I Go to Church

I love going to church. Except for 3rd grade, when I was expected to memorize the books of the Bible, I have always loved going to church. I’ve experienced a deep sense of God’s presence in the gathered community, found joy in singing both with choirs and congregations, made friends and encountered mentors, been comforted in times of terrible loss, and discovered my voice. I’ve also had my feelings hurt, wondered why bad things happen, and wished I could run away and never come back. This seems to me a reasonable aggregate of the human experience, with the the added benefit of incorporating a purposeful connection to God. 

As a little Southern Baptist girl, I aspired to marry a pastor. Later in life, and under different denominational influences, when I realized I had a call to ministry, everything made sense. I would be one of the people who helped make all those things happen for others. My great love in life became my work, and as part of it, I went to church, gladly, even when budgets were tight, or politics fraught, or justice undone. I believe in the possibility nascent in the gathered body of the faithful, and in the power God extends to us to make things happen. 

I’m smitten with this preacher.
(Photo credit: Kathie Carmines)

I still love going to church.

Almost every Sunday now, though, I sit in church as a worshiper, not a leader. Most weeks, I worship with the community my wife serves. I can count on hearing solid and often soaring preaching from both pastors on staff. The congregational singing is, and I do not exaggerate, amazing. I appreciate being part of a faith community that serves the wider world in tangible ways. I see the same people week in and week out and keep a neighborly eye on them as I know they do on my family. 

In the interests of full disclosure, however, I do avoid the few people who have been guilty of micro-aggressions toward our queer clergy family, sing the doxology inclusively despite what is printed in the bulletin, and don’t always like what’s on the church sign. And I’m not going to lie; sometimes sitting in the pew raises existential questions about how I am serving God, and leaves me feeling a bit bereft. 

Still, I show up on Sunday, not because I must, but because I may, and I desire to be in worship, and I know full well that there is no church that will do everything to my complete satisfaction – not even one I serve as pastor myself. At this point in my life, I want to give back to the Church that nurtured me by being present in a church that nurtures others, by offering my gifts when appropriate, by supporting the pastors and staff who work so hard and so faithfully. To all the pastors and program staff of all the churches, thank you for the work you do, often in the face of great challenges, and not just on Sundays. 

Thank you for making church happen. 


A version of this post appeared in the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader.

Prayers for Pastors, Reflectionary

After a Sunday off (a prayer for pastors)

Dear Holy,

After a Sunday off,
I find it hard to come back.
I am grateful for the rest,
but still managing re-entry.

It’s probably true that
I haven’t forgotten how
to write a sermon, to craft
a prayer, to offer a blessing,

after a Sunday offbut somewhere in the middle
between“I got this!”
and “what was I thinking?”
is the post-vacation muddle,

not so much “not ready”
as “not fully present”
not so much “unwilling”
as “not sure I’m able.”

Ground me, dear Holy,
in this time and space,
with the people I serve,
and a true word from You.

Amen.

Church Life, Ministry

Why Do You Go to Church?

The two preachers at my house have a disagreement in principle about church attendance. Oh, we’re both for it under ordinary circumstances! We grew up in families where everybody went to church. We loved Sunday School and Youth Group and special choirs. Really, seriously, most of the time we are eager to get up and go on a Sunday morning, to lead worship in our respective congregations.

But on vacation? There we disagree. I love to visit other churches on vacation. My spouse does not. And she may have a point. Church is our workplace, and maybe the occasional Sabbath spent on a beach or walking in the woods is a good thing. (Although we spent the last joint Sunday off on the road returning from vacation.)

Perhaps when I visit other churches I do it with the keen, appraising eye of a professional, taking notes for my own worship leadership. In fact, I’ve been guilty of preaching at one church while taking vacation from another, a kind of busman’s holiday.

Why do you go to church?

Some do it out of obligation, and others to see their friends. Some do it because they always have; it’s a habit. Some do it out of fear they will end up on God’s bad side. I’ve heard people say they went to church every week when they were younger because in the day of the Blue Laws, there was nothing else to do and nowhere else to go. I find I wonder this about the people who come and listen to me on Sundays, particularly when they look unenthused about the experience. Believe me, I bring that home to ponder.

Why *do* you go to church?

In October we heard the Ten Commandments in worship and received the reminder to keep the Sabbath holy. Christians worship on Sunday to mark the Resurrection. It’s our less elaborate adaptation of the Jewish Sabbath. Most people feel no cultural pressure to attend, and some have no experience with church, and others have made other choices for legitimate reasons of their own including past hurts.

Why do you go to church?

In February I visited my childhood church in Virginia, where, yes, I preached on a vacation Sunday. It’s the place I first heard the words “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1, King James Version) And I think that’s the reason I keep going to church on Sundays, the reason I responded to God’s call to local church ministry: I go because I am glad, week in and week out, to go into the house of the Lord.

Why do *you* go to church? I would love to know.

Stained glass windows in the balcony at my childhood church.
Stained glass windows in the balcony at my childhood church.