My pastor friend recently started an adult confirmation class at her church. Why? Well, in part because the church doesn’t have any kids of the typical confirmation class age. Also, she has noticed that many adults, who may or may not have been confirmed as youth, struggle to articulate why they go to church. For example, one woman has repeatedly expressed frustration that her niece in her twenties does not join her at church.
My pastor friend pushes her, “Why do you go to church?”
“Um,” she paused, a little taken aback, “it’s just what you do. It’s what I’ve always done on Sunday morning.”
“Well, I’d bet your niece has more reasons why she doesn’t go to church. I bet she can think of eighteen other things to do– like take a walk, sip coffee in her pajamas, go to brunch with girlfriends, or do crossword puzzles with her boyfriend– instead of go to church that all feel like Sabbath to her. Unless you can tell her why she should give those things up to come with you, unless you can tell her what she will find her to bring her peace and rest and joy, she’s going to pass.”
My pastor friend is hoping adult confirmation can equip her congregation with some vocabulary around expressing their faith, their story. Each session she is focusing on one of the baptismal promises that is affirmed at confirmation. Week 1: To live among God’s faithful people. Or, in other words, Why church?
Martin Luther answers by expressing seven marks of the church, or seven things you will find in a church that defines it in society: the word of God, baptism, eucharist, confession and forgiveness of sins, presence of ministers, prayers of thanks and praise to God, and the possession of the cross (or suffering). He believes that these seven things work together to strengthen the ordinary holiness of Christ believers. Many people go to church because these elements work for them.
In Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott has a great chapter called “Why I Make Sam Go To Church.” Sam is her son. Here are some of her reasons for bringing her son to church:
1. “I want to give him what I found in the world, which is to say a path and a little light to see by. Most people I know who have what I want– which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy– are people with a deep sense of spirituality. They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith…banning together to work on themselves and human rights. They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful.”
2. “When I was at the end of my rope, the people at St. Andrew tied a knot in it for me and helped me hold on. The church became a home in the old meaning of home– that it’s where, when you show up, they have to let you in.”
3. “Sam was welcomed at St. Andrew seven months before he was born. When I announced at worship that I was pregnant, people cheered…And they began slipping me money.”
4. “I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools– friendship, prayer, conscience, honesty– and said, Do the best you can with these, they will have to do. And mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.”
I agree with my pastor friend. More and more people will choose to find Sabbath outside of church unless the people who go to church can clearly articulate what church offers. I know people who go because they love the feeling of singing in a choir. Others go because when they are too broken to pray, they know the others around them will pray for them until they are strong again. Still others value being part of a bigger story, a community that spans distance and time. It is one of the only places left to build genuine inter-generational relationships. Or for some, it’s a quiet place to sit still and reflect on the week.
If you go to church, can you explain why?