Although I went to seminary out of two membership experiences with strong, vital, and energetic churches, my subsequent encounters, starting with my very first (outside of my own congregation) guest preaching gig a few weeks into school, have been with a number of struggling and dwindling congregations. I have thus spent a lot of time pondering questions along the lines of What is church for? Why go to church? Does church have any meaning? And I might have a few things to say about those and related questions from time to time.
My husband and I were young professionals, YUPPIES in the truest sense of the word, when we found a Methodist church and joined it. He was an IT professional and I was a lawyer, both of us working for major corporations. We were new suburban homeowners, having acquired a house, a yard, and the requisite tools (lawnmower, shovels, rakes) to replace our cozy apartment. We had very little vacation time, but enough money for short trips to visit my grandparents in Florida, and to bird and backpack out west. We usually spent 12-hour weekdays downtown, toiling away in tall office buildings, tried to maintain the rest of our lives on Saturdays, and relaxed with The New York Times on Sundays.
So why church?
I was casting about for a means by which to do something more meaningful to me than reviewing industry regulations and drafting corporate leases. I enjoyed my job, and really liked my colleagues, but . . . is this all there is? I wondered on a daily basis. I really didn’t know much about church; my family of origin is not a church sort of family. But I had spent six years in religious boarding schools, so I had a lot of book knowledge. And it occurred to me, on the basis of that boarding school experience, that the kind of thing I was looking for (I did not know words like mission or phrases like social justice) was done by people in churches.
So off to church we went. To a very large church, where we were lost for a year or two, until someone invited me to join a committee on . . . Social Concerns! There you go! I have no idea how any of the people who never spoke to us imagined that that committee might be the home I was looking for, but I had finally landed in a welcoming nest filled with people doing actual things in the community.
To this day, I think of church as a place from which one serves the world, one way or another. Over thirty years later, I have a much broader sense of a life of faith, of course, but my first question about any congregation, still springing from that very well-dressed but also very confused young lawyer, is:
What are you doing outside your doors?
Image: Prayer walkers from five churches on a chilly day in the city!