Don’t GO TO Church…
In this part of the country, it is very common to ask the question, “Where do you go to church?” In some ways that question reveals what is good about our southern culture. Going to church is encouraged, even expected. I like that. Going to church is a healthy practice, generally speaking. The question also leads to a form of faith-sharing as it gives us a chance to say why it is we go to a particular church. “I like St. John’s,” we might say, “because it is beautiful, the music is glorious, we get communion, and the sermons focus on God’s grace.”
In some other ways, the question presents problems. There’s no small amount of judgment that goes with the question. A few churches go so far as to say that everyone who doesn’t go to that church is condemned to hell. But most of our judgmental thoughts about church attendance are more subtle.
When someone does something which rubs us the wrong way, we just might say, “Well, you know, she goes to (fill-in-the-blank) church so it’s no wonder.” Episcopalians certainly wouldn’t say that those who aren’t Episcopalian are going to hell. But we probably think less of them. I teasingly coined a potential bumper-sticker phrase a while back: “St. John’s Church: if you can find a better church, join it.” I’ll admit it: if you’re not a member of St. John’s, or at least Episcopalian, I’m suspicious.
There’s another problem with the question, “Where do you go to church?” The emphasis in the question is on GOING TO church instead of BEING the church. If my attention is exclusively on GOING TO church I quickly slide into equating church attendance with GOING TO other things like football games or the grocery store or the movies. If I ask my family members if they need anything from the store and they say no, then I’m not going to go to the store. Honestly we often treat church that way. If we don’t need something from it, we don’t go there. Focusing on GOING TO church is to equate it with various consumer goods. We GO TO church to get something, to make a transaction, to fill a need. With that thinking, we betray the most self-centered of motives. GOING TO church is really all about me. It has little to do with God or the community of faith.
When I focus on BEING the church, a very pronounced shift takes place. Then, I’m not part of the community so much to get my needs but to make an offering, to serve, to lean in with people of faith who are like me and very different than me, to bask in practices that connect me with that which is so old that it is always new. It’s not about getting my ticket punched or my buggy filled; it’s about participating in something that is bigger than me. See the difference? One way is all about me. The other way is to set myself aside.
Those whose focus on GOING TO church invariably fall away from the church. If I treat the church like any other commodity, at some point it’s going to stop meeting my needs and I’ll stop going. I’ll look for a bigger thrill or a better bargain somewhere else. Or I’ll treat the church like a junkie treats his habit. I’ll go for my fix and return to my hell when the high wears off with nothing but emptiness inside.
When I focus on BEING the church, I let what it offers wash over me and carry me further into mystery and appreciation. I am more accepting of those who differ from me. I am more accepting of myself. I see God in places far removed from the church building. I feel connected with things and people in general. And, perhaps ironically, I find it hard to stay away. My participation in the various church activities gets more regular. I give more of myself. I may even go quietly and just sit when no one else is there just because it feels so right. When I focus on BEING the church I go more often and everything there teaches me something about God and God’s ways.
If you haven’t been here in a while, it may be because you’re approaching your church in a self-centered way. A community of faith is formed when we recognize that we are the church whether we are at the church or not. We don’t come to find our identity. We identify and so we come.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Special Events Around the Corner
Honduras Medical Mission Trip – July 22-29
Blessing of Backpacks – August 13
EYC Parents’ Meeting – August 20 at noon
Fall Kickoff Sunday – September 10
Organ Recital by Joel Gregory – September 14 at 7:00 pm
Blessing of the Animals – October 1 at 5:00 pm
Evensong – October 15 at 4:00 pm
Halloween Carnival – October 25 at 6:00 pm
Bazaar – November 15
Ordination to the Priesthood for Jamie Osborne – November 18 at 11:00 am
Handel’s Messiah – December 8 at 7:00 pm