It’s an oft heard lament of good church folk that there are too many things going on on Sunday mornings, things that get in the way of people going to church. Over the years, I’ve heard more than my share of complaints, the steady beat of the same old grumbles and moans, especially focused on sports practices for children and youth.
My family and I have experienced the great luxury of not so much in the way of this particular set of conflicts. While we occasionally encounter an event of some significance to us that occurs on a Sunday morning, it’s been a rare thing. And, since it’s been rare, we have often allowed our children to participate.
For this new school year, the situation has already been different. Our son, who is now a senior in high school, has had two Sunday morning events two weeks in a row—one a fundraiser for the high school music boosters; and the other a fundraiser for the golf team. Lest I consider myself all of a sudden too sensitive to the scheduling of events on Sunday morning, I found myself chatting with a Jewish friend specifically about the music event— a community event for which the students in the music program were heavily encouraged to volunteer. She was rather agitated about the whole thing herself, as the local Hebrew school meets on Sunday mornings.
The conversation with my Jewish friend included more than a simple lament about the scheduling of a sizeable event on a Sunday morning. It wasn’t just that Sunday mornings have been, traditionally, for religious observance, but that Sunday mornings have mostly been left alone in our community—not so much for religious reasons, but in acknowledgement that there should be one morning a week when family life is not rushed, unless the family chooses it to be so. Family time should be honored.
The gloves, though, were now off. What would be next?
I then asked my friend about what she and her family did, in order to make decisions about balancing religious observance and the demands of the world, and of sports, and of school, etc. As members of a small religious minority in this part of the world, the family makes such decisions on a regular basis. Hebrew school may be held on Sunday mornings, but regular religious services are not. Those are held on Saturday mornings, when there are a lot of other things going on that involve their children.
For the most part, she told me, the kids go to sports practices on Saturday mornings, but go to religious services “out of season.” High holidays are different, though. Those are observed, including when school days need to be missed.
I started to wonder. How long will it be, in this very secular part of the world, when the “high holy days” of the Christian faith will no longer be considered off limits? Is it enough that Christmas has become also a secular observance, or will the day come when choices will need to be made about observing Christmas?
There’s a part of me that is irked, certainly, about the changes quietly taking in place in our community. But there’s also a part of me that thinks this is all a good thing. A church like the one that I serve, as it still remembers the “glory days” of the 1950s when it was at or near the center of community life, has not only lost many members over the last half century, it has also lost a sense of its own mission, purpose and identity. The church so enjoyed being central to community life, that it didn’t need to think very carefully about why it existed and what it was truly for.
I must admit that there have been times, when I have attended a bar or bat mitzvah, when I have felt a wee bit envious. In the smallness of the local Jewish community, there is also a strong sense of who they are and what they are about. I know a couple of young people whose families have had only a tentative attachment to the local Jewish community, who have set out with clear purpose to claim their Jewish identity.
I wouldn’t mind something of the same. And, I don’t just mean for the young people. For the older people too. It’s simply not enough to think that church is a good thing. Why it is, why it exists, what it means for us, and how it lays a claim on how we lead our lives, all pose critical questions for us.