While I was picking up my dry cleaning, I got into a conversation with the attendant about New Year’s resolutions. When she started to share her goal, I expected her to say something standard like, “I want to lose weight” or “exercise more.” But much to my surprise, top on her list was to go to church more — and not just on Sundays. Why would someone say that? It made me curious.
Nowadays, it’s common to hear reasons for not going to church — life is too busy; someone’s had a bad experience; or someone thinks it’s not relevant. But according to a 2012 Pew Foundation survey, many of these 46 million unaffiliated Americans still think of themselves as religious or spiritual. “Two thirds of them say they believe in God (68%)….More than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one in five (21%) say they pray every day.” Interestingly, the religiously unaffiliated still think religious institutions are beneficial because they strengthen community and help the impoverished.
Although I didn’t have time to find out more about my friend’s resolution, it got me thinking why church is still relevant to me. I happen to be a member of First Church of Christ, Scientist in Philadelphia — a Christian Science church. I confess, I’m one of those people that goes at least two times a week and no one is twisting my arm.
So why do I go? For one thing, I find it feeds my spiritual hunger. If I don’t go, I find that something is missing in my week and I feel spiritually empty inside. (And that is not based on a superstition that something bad will happen if I don’t go.)
Sure I can pray on my own and progress on my own spiritual journey, but I find that church speeds my progress. Someone once likened church to being in a boat with other paddlers and said, “It’s easier to have several people paddling in a boat across the ocean, than to swim by yourself.” And I don’t know about you, but being in that boat seems a lot better to me!
So why is church like a boat? Well hopefully all the paddlers are going in the same direction. That means they are supporting one another not only through prayer but also by their example. During times of temptation, it’s wonderful to remember that someone else has weathered a storm because of their trust and courage that God would help them.
Although I pray daily, the support of church gives me a spiritual foundation to tackle the challenges that come up. For instance, there have been times I’ve felt spiritually low and hearing a Bible reference has lifted me up. Or hearing someone share how they prayed through a difficult situation has given me courage to continue trusting that God is on my side and will see me through. And there is something very sweet in the moments of silence, which are precious times to listen to God. (This doesn’t mean that I can’t listen to God elsewhere. But dropping the mental garbage before entering church sometimes makes me more receptive to God’s direction.) There have also been times I haven’t felt well and left church healed.
Do I ever get frustrated or disillusioned with church? Sometimes. Especially when my feathers get ruffled by something someone has said or done. Unfortunately, I think sometimes I expect a lot more from my fellow church members than I do from my own family or neighbors. But, these are also the times when I learn my most valuable lessons and grow spiritually — because I’m forced to love more and be more patient and forgiving. That’s when this definition of church by Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Christian Science church, has particular meaning to me: “The structure of Truth and Love; what‐ever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle. The Church is that institution, which affords proof of its utility and is found elevating the race, rousing the dormant understanding from material beliefs to the apprehension of spiritual ideas and the demonstration of divine Science, thereby casting out devils, or error, and healing the sick.”
This definition raises the bar higher than how I sometimes think about church. It reminds me that the true essence of church is not a building; is not made up of rules; or even the group of people who attend it. Ultimately, church is more than a place to learn about God’s nature and feel His/Her presence in ways that ordinary activities of life don’t provide — as wonderful as all that is. Ultimately, church is a “place” of healing — or rather a healing power at work, connecting me to God, divine Love, and His/Her healing power.
Seen in this light, going to church is not just about what I can get out of it. It is best when it becomes a two-way experience. Not only am I fed by going, but it gives me an opportunity to give to and serve my community in ways that I hope will meet their spiritual needs.
Perhaps that’s why my friend at the dry cleaners has decided to go to church more. I don’t know her religion or where she goes. It doesn’t matter. But obviously church is something that feeds her spiritually and touches her heart and mine. And that’s why I go.
Valerie Minard writes regularly on the connection between consciousness, spirituality, and health. She is a Christian Science practitioner and the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in New Jersey. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @valerieminard.