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.
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.
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.