Faith Works 3-29-14
On going to church, part one
To start with, I need to introduce you to a friend of mine.
He worked for the Detroit Free Press back in the early decades of the last century, and his name was Edgar A. Guest. He was a journalist and a poet.
Guest wrote a long essay in 1928 entitled "Why I Go To Church." It began uncontroversially, even if his sentiments would not be those of everyone, now or then.
"I go to church and contribute to the support of a church because I believe in churches. I would not care to live in a city or a state or a nation in which there were no churches and no churchgoers."
Guest makes it clear: "I am not a religious fanatic. I have yet to quarrel with a man regarding his choice of a religion, but I would rather have churchgoers for my neighbors than non-churchgoers. . . I am not a regular churchgoer in the sense that I attend every Sunday, rain or shine. I do not believe that God will love all those who go regularly to church, and make outcasts of all those who do not."
As a worshiper, not a pastor, he is utterly candid: "I have been bored in church. I have been annoyed; I have been made angry; I have encountered in church men for whom I had lost all respect; I have heard things uttered in church which have disgusted me; but I have never lost my faith in the purpose of the church, nor in its ministry as a body."
To those who say that they don't see why he or anyone would go back after such disappointments: "Most folks who have been angered by ministers have had to listen to something which they did not like to hear. The same people hear things they don't like in theatres, but they keep right on going to them… They have seen bad baseball and they still go to baseball games. They have drawn bad cards, but they still play bridge... Friends have cheated them, but they still look to friendship for the lasting joys of life..."
Close to the end of his thoughts he hits what, to me, is the compelling point that always weighs heavily in the back of my mind when I'm talking to someone arguing that they don't need the complication, the frustration, the disappointment of what church attendance can bring:
"To say that I don't need the church is mere bravado. I needed it when my father died; I needed it when we were married and when our babies were taken from us, and I shall need it again sooner or later, and need it badly. I am in good health now, and I could, I suppose, get along very nicely for a time without the aid of clergyman, or choir, or even prayer; but what sort of a man is he who scorns and neglects and despises his best friend until his hour of tribulation?"
That is not the only reason, but it is one of the more pragmatic reasons I can point to for why church attendance, and yes, church membership is still important, even (especially) in a day when joining is a click or a "like" and communities so often are more virtual than actual.
Someday, for all of us, there comes a time when you need someone to stand or sit or even kneel with you. In congregations, you will find that. And having found that, I think you can count on finding something or Someone even more necessary… but that's for next week.