Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Why on Earth Would Anyone Go to Church?

Why on earth would anyone who has never been to church, or hasn’t been since childhood, possibly go to church?

Why would anyone disrupt their Sunday schedule, add another activity to an already over busy weekend filled with soccer matches and children’s birthday parties? Why would anyone sacrifice their one day to sleep in, to linger over a fat Sunday paper with a cat on their lap and a mocha, and replace it with a Sunday morning sitting with strangers in a drafty old building singing, or trying to, two and three hundred year old songs, and reciting prayers older than that?

I never had any intention of being a churchgoer. I’d been a “visitor” to guitar mass with my best friend in elementary school, to a service or two in the Methodist church as a teenager, and then to a few weddings in college. All of which convinced me that church was an “insider activity,” incredibly boring and unappealing to an outsider.

Then, God entered my life, poured onto me in the shower, and as if God had left a shiny business card in my towel when I went to dry off, I felt compelled to discover more about this mysterious visitor. Church seemed like the logical place.

I did learn about God there, but first I had to learn the church culture. It took some getting used to, years actually. I had never read a Bible, never “passed the peace,” never prayed out loud, even following a printed program. I had never opened a hymnal, never sung any songs by memory older than The Star Spangled Banner.

It was like visiting Oz. Strange, yet intriguing, so I stuck with it. Gradually I got the routine of worship, caught onto the lingo of Christianity, familiarized myself with Bible stories, mostly by teaching Sunday school to first and second graders, and learned what it meant to be part of a community, a community of faith.

For the first several months, I snuck out the doors as soon as church was over. I was too shy and too frightened to talk to the “Real Christians” whom I assumed lived perfect lives. I was sure they didn’t listen to Madonna albums or patronize R rated movies, both of which I did, and which proved I wasn’t Christian material. After a while, listening to the prayer requests the “Real Christians” offered during church, and seeing some of them at the movies, I realized they weren’t perfect, just human. They were allowed to laugh, and to hear profanity, maybe even use it! They struggled with unemployment, cancer, old age, and out of control kids. They worried about the homeless in the town and weren’t sure how to help.

One Sunday when the service was over, I was brave enough to go through a different door, toward a coffee pot, a plate of cookies and the congregation, holding Styrofoam cups and chatting. I didn’t have much to say. I could talk about the weather, but not about God. I lacked the vocabulary and the experience. Even so, I became part of the community. They didn’t care about my college degree, my activist credentials, my lack of church experience, my employment status, my income or what part of town––the wrong part––I lived in. I was welcome because I showed up, that was all that mattered.

I came to church because something had been missing in my life; something that I suppose was God. I didn’t just attend worship, expecting to be entertained by a good story and some peppy song by the choir. I didn’t come to church to feel good, or to feel like I’d done my duty, so that I could go off and do whatever I wanted until the next Sunday rolled around.

For me, church has been about finding God and finding myself. It’s been about committing myself to people as well as to God. Through church I met with women for prayer and sharing often during the challenges of raising young children. I learned what it meant to sit with someone in pain, not be able to solve her problems, and be okay with that. Faith grew in me and I trusted God to go where I couldn’t.

Over the years I learned to teach, to lead, to pray, to study, to preach, to work through conflict, to grieve loss, to rejoice at birth, to sit with death, to accept change, even to welcome it. I learned to talk and write about God and share that with others.

I can’t imagine my life without church––the place where I’m growing into the person I was meant to become. That’s why on earth I go to church. Why would you?

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