Recently in the news there have been a number of stories again about the closing of various churches across the land. Often the reasons cited included the fact that congregation’s members die or move away making it impossible for those left to sustain their worship place. It doesn’t help matters that the buildings are often old and costly to maintain. Yet I also know of fairly new buildings (less than 50 years old) that were also being closed for similar reasons.
As much as I feel badly when I hear of a church closing its doors or being de-consecrated, I am also a realist. At one time every little community had its own general store, bank, post office , etc. and often more than one church building (sometimes buildings of the same denomination that need to spread its wings or resolve a dispute). At the same time as some churches are closing others seem to be thriving which leads them to build new edifices and lead one to wonder why.
I asked myself why it is that I go to church. I used to think that it was because I was expected to do so; after all I was the worship leader. I figured that I might just not attend worship after my retirement and join the “spiritual but not religious” group. But then I realized that even though I didn’t consider myself religious, I still wanted to attend weekly worship (not that that is the only thing a real church does). Despite the fact that I am very much a “lone wolf” kind of person, I still feel the importance of communal worship. Granted, that doesn’t have to be Sunday morning as in the past, but there is a need to meet with others. It doesn’t even matter that we don’t even share the same “theological” beliefs. What draws me to worship is the yearning for fellowship.
I have often heard people say that they don’t go to worship because they don’t get anything out of it. I would suggest participating in worship is more than just receiving. It really has more to do with giving (and I don’t just mean when the offering plate is passed around. Sometimes we don’t know the effect of our presence on others. One man I knew used to watch his wife and young family walk to church each week for years. Then one day he told me that he didn’t know what overcame him but he just knew he just had to join them, which he did and as every week since. He didn’t know why, or what it might mean to him, but he knew that it meant something special to his family and so he joined them. (He also did find something for him as well.)
Together they have celebrated new life in their midst. They have also mourned together at the death of one of their church family. I have seen similar scenarios played out again and again. Faith is taught but seems to be also caught. Most importantly, each of us must make it our own. Adding to our desire to be part of a larger community is also the desire to connect with the idea that we must be open to being taught and that means being strong enough to ask questions about we have or haven’t been taught.
I also know and appreciate that some will remind me that worship doesn’t have to take place in a building. I will not argue the point, but my only comment is that if we do not choose to make worship intentional, it misses so much. I can take a walk in nature and feel the presence of the one I worship, but I then need to learn to share that encounter with others.