One of my “younger” parishioners (just a bit older than I am)—I’ll call him Henry— came to chat with me a couple of weeks ago. Part of our conversation included the sharing of information regarding yet another Old South member—“Sally.” Henry had run into Sally and they chatted about several things, including Old South. Sally rarely attends worship anymore, although she was a very active member until about eight years ago.
These two people are in a category of people who cause me a lot of worry. They are Baby Boomers whose children have grown and left the house. And, somehow that has translated into a sense of uncertainty about how church fits into their lives. In this case, Henry still feels that church is important, while Sally has drifted away.
Henry had a few things to talk about when he came by to chat, but when he brought up Sally, he mentioned that he had asked her why she didn’t attend worship anymore. Sally replied that she has discovered that she doesn’t need church to be a good Christian.
Without getting angry or harsh, I let Henry know that it is my strong feeling and opinion that you can’t really be a Christian if you don’t go to church, or at least have some significant connection to an organized Christian community (like Bible study). Any person can be a good person, an ethical person, a spiritual person even. But, you can’t be a Christian if you don’t go to church.
As a good progressive/liberal, I don’t subscribe to a whole lot of absolutes, but of this I am sure: a Christian can’t be a Christian without going to church, or being a part of some kind of Christian community. That’s just the way it is. It’s how this whole Christian thing works.
Community is essential to the Christian faith, not a nice extra if you’ve got the time. The Christian faith is to be lived and shared with others, in a practicing way. It is through worship and prayer and study—and even the occasional meeting (!)—that we learn and grow in faith. We simply cannot “Do It Yourself.” A DIY faith is one-dimensional, stilted, self-centered.
In and through church and worship, we explore and practice the faith. We learn about the Bible, and struggle with lessons that are both easy and difficult to understand. We reach out to others, and discover the realities of what it means to love one’s neighbor as oneself. In a church like Old South, where different kinds of people gather with different life experiences and political persuasions, we learn critical lessons about what it means to be a Christian community, by listening and speaking and through wondrous moments of silence. Where two or three are gathered, there is where Christ is as well. We experience this reality in and through church, worship and community.
Through the sharing of the sacraments as well, we are invited into a sacred and holy space. We experience the grace of God in a unique way.
DIY is good for some things in life, like home renovations, but it just doesn’t work for good Christian faith and practice. I know that it can be a challenge to reorient oneself when a significant aspect of one’s reason for going to church is no longer present (like when the kids grow up). It can also be a challenge to be in the midst of different people with different ideas and different ways of wanting to do things. And, it certainly can be a challenge to go to worship on Sunday mornings, when lots of your friends and family are doing other things, or when it just seems like the perfect time to get a little extra sleep.
But, without Christian community, Sally shouldn’t be fooling herself. She can’t be a Christian without church.