Take Me to Church

I’ve been mulling over the relationship between church and faith for some time.  Our family values are built upon a christian belief system, but we are not active churchgoers right now.

Most people would think that church and faith are not mutually exclusive.  Church cannot exist without people of faith, but can faith be exercised and perhaps even strengthened without church? This is the question I have been wrestling with.

I grew up well-churched.  I even lived on Church Street, the end of which you would find the Methodist church my family belonged to.  Every Sunday I would dutifully report to Sunday school and most of our social outings as a family revolved around the church. I was the reigning champion of bible trivia and I treasured my bible that was given to me in third grade.

Moving away from my hometown as well as my husband and I having different religious backgrounds definitely contributed to the church becoming less central in my life. After years of church shopping and sporadic stretches of regular attendance in various houses of worship, I’m beginning to reevaluate what going to church really means to me.

You could argue that church exists to reinforce the values of religion and that it’s a place to exchange ideas and become closer to the doctrine that feeds your spirituality.  Certainly.  The role of church in one’s life is as unique as a fingerprint.  Each individual of a congregation is taking away something different and their motivation for going to church is just as personal.  Guilt, enjoyment, habit, spiritual hunger – the list of reasons why is endless.

A close friend of mine is as thoroughly churched as they come.  His Dad (Abouna) was sent from Cairo, Egypt to establish the local Coptic Egyptian Christian Church and he was raised by the church.  I asked what church meant to him and before the words came out, I knew the answer – church IS him.  He explained that for him, church is not only a spiritual platform but a link to his ancestors.  Practicing the nearly 2,000 year old rituals brings the legacy of the early Coptic Christians to life and not only strengthens his reverence for his religion and culture but honors a religious history rife with persecution and struggle. His passion for his church really is quite beautiful.

CHURCH

Another friend mentioned that she is trying to attend her synagogue on a more regular basis.  I asked her the same question – what attending services meant to her.  She didn’t hesitate – it was the rabbi.  For her, attending services at her synagogue was motivated by a charismatic leader. I asked the next logical question – what would happen if the rabbi left?  She said she asks herself that all the time and that she honestly doesn’t know what she would do.  Unlike my other friend who is being spiritually fed by the history, doctrine and rituals, she relies less on the religious practice and more on a charismatic leader to inspire her attendance at temple.

I’ve noticed the that the more time I spend trying to incorporate the essence of faith into my life, the less time I spend fretting about going to church.  For me, religion/faith/spirituality and well, life in general boil down to one guiding principle that spans the religious and the non-religious – do unto others.  I don’t mean to oversimplify the teachings of religion, but serving others is at the root of just about everything. That’s not to say that church is completely absent from my life – it’s not. Attending church is just not where I’m putting my spiritual energy at the moment.

For me right now, my church is all around me.  It’s my time in the kitchen making food for others.  It’s my link to my ancestors whose photos decorate my kitchen walls, and whose tools I still use like my grandmother’s wooden spoon.  It’s finding charismatic leaders in new friends who share with me their hopes and dreams or inspire me with  interesting articles and advice.  It’s the picture of Abouna in my boys’ room, the Urbana United Methodist Church cookbook in my cupboard, and the 3rd grade bible on my bookshelf.

bible

It’s trying to live my life, so that I might serve others in a small way and create opportunities to extend gratitude and kindness to those around me.  That, to me, is what church is all about.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Marc M says:

    Growing up in a fiercely Catholic home, I wondered why we went to Church EVERY Sunday as if something was going to change. As it turns out, it was my way to honor my parents, and fulfill their expectations of me each week. The minute I was done with Catholic school life (leaving for college), going to Church was a “only when I’m home” thing. When I got married, it became an “only on holidays” thing. When we had the boys, it became a “never” thing because we didn’t want to “bother” others in Church. Now that the boys are in PSR (Catholic Bible School), we have renewed the cycle of our churchgoing habit (like my parents before me). Perhaps one day our boys will feel like they are fulfilling our expectations of them as Catholic parents. However, I don’t want that. I want them to do as I did, develop their own spirituality and relationship with God which doesn’t include a weekly obligation to “go to church.” I agree that the Church is all around us, and we must strive to live out our spirituality LOUDLY.

    Like

    1. Emily says:

      Marc – I LOVE your perspective. With the boys now out of the “bother people in church” phase, I think that’s what has ignigted many of these thoughts. Such an interesting topic, how religion is so personal but the motivations and reasons why are so complex with so many external influences. Thanks for sharing such a thoughtful take on this!

      Like

  2. Carla T says:

    Our family goes to church every Sunday. I was raised Catholic and still feel most comfortable in a Catholic church but my husband is Methodist and we have chosen to raise our boys in the Methodist church. Going to church shows respect and praise for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It’s great to find spirituality or church in a kitchen or park or lake, but the purpose isn’t devoted to Jesus. I feel I have to give my sons all the tools they will need to navigate this world and knowing Jesus is the number one tool. They may drift away just like I did for a time, but they will know that by following the one and only rule book, they will be able to get through anything in life. I really enjoyed reading your blog this morning! Now time to get ready for church;)

    Like

    1. Emily says:

      Carla – this was such candid feedback, thank you! This is excellent perspective and one for me to think more about. It also brings up a good point of the right church home – which we haven’t quite found yet. I really appreciate your thoughts!

      Like

      1. Carla T says:

        Finding the right church is key. We looked around for awhile and then found our church. We also gained very close friends through the church. I’m so glad I read your blog this morning, it actually helped enhance my experience this morning at church!

        Like

  3. Amy Maggart says:

    Great post, Emily! I’ve thought about going to church services, past church going experiences, etc. often over the past few years. Like you, every Sunday was Sunday School. But once we graduated and went to college, I came home for breaks and realized Mom had stopped teaching Sunday School, and they no longer went to church each week. It was just down to holiday services. Once I moved to Dayton and started my life, I didn’t go on my own. I didn’t feel like I HAD to be sitting in a pew to be spiritual. I have attended a lovely Methodist church near me in Dayton on a few occasions, but I admit it was only because the church is GORGEOUS and I really wanted to see the inside. Sad, I know. I think if I had kids, I would have them in Sunday School for the social aspects, and to learn about religion and to start forming their own spiritual beliefs. But I think once you have that spiritual foundation, “church” can be wherever you want it to be.

    Like

    1. Emily says:

      Thank you for jumping into the conversation, Amy! I’m glad to have your voice here because you and I were raised together in the same church. How the church you were raised in as a child shapes your choices as an adult is a whole other topic! But a really interesting angle to think about. You mentioned a “spiritual foundation” and that is incredibly important to me – and for many (and even me eventually), church helps mend the cracks in that foundation that can form over time. I definitely have no answers but appreciate people to reflect with! Thank you!

      Like

  4. Cindy says:

    I had a terrific foundation as a child in being “brought up” and active in a United Church of Christ. I have gone to other churches as an adult, but my weekend pattern of life never revolved around being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the rhythm of church on a Sunday morning. I love the tradition of the services and look forward to seeking that out on holidays. In my love for the outdoors, I’d more often find myself on Sunday mornings in nature, seeing a baby fawn take its first steps, watching a sunrise, etc. Somehow through those experiences, I feel that I am experiencing God’s bounty and miracles from a front row pew – seeing things that most never see, being able to give my thanks in awe and praise. In my life I seek out experiences to be that servant leader to others in many ways. I love your point that church is all around you. Church is loving my job and work whether paid or volunteer, seeking out experiences to make a difference in someone’s life, being a good friend and a good neighbor.

    Like

    1. Emily says:

      This is a beautiful reflection, Cindy! Thank you so much for including your thoughts – I always love your perspective. 🙂

      Like

  5. Heather says:

    As an atheist and humanist, I definitely believe that you don’t need church or a belief in gods to be a moral person. As you pointed out, the Golden Rule is pretty much universal, and is, in my opinion, the foundation for most people’s moral code, whether they insert a god into it or not.
    One thing that church can provide that I think is very important, is a place for community. As you know, I spent some time in my own kitchen thinking about ways to reach out to and help others, and finally concluded that that wasn’t working that well for me (we don’t have family in the area, or a close-knit group of neighbors or anything like that). I recently have gotten involved with a local group that is starting up, a chapter of the American Humanist Association. Our goal is to build community: to provide support, connection, and opportunities for social interaction and community service to the non-religious in the area. I have already made some great friends, and I really thrive when I am part of a group working toward a goal or goals.
    It sounds like what you are doing is working really well for you. I’m always delighted to hear what new adventures you are having!

    Like

    1. Emily says:

      I love having your perspective thrown into this reflection! You totally inspired me with your bread baking endeavors way back when. You have a good point with church providing a sense of community, which of course begs the question of where one finds that if church is not the right fit. Very cool to hear that you are involved in starting a chapter of the American Humanist Association! So glad to be connected still via our adventures in life. 🙂

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s