Why do I still go to church? This is a question I ask myself pretty much every Sunday morning, at least. At one level I think this is the wrong question. I remember this one Evangelical woman I knew. Whenever she would talk to me about church, she spoke in terms of “getting fed” or getting her needs met. I try not to think that way. If God is the Good itself, then worshipping God is self-evidently good. The answer to the question, “Why go to church?” is the same as for “Why climb a mountain?” Because it’s there. Still, my question is more introspective. It is not why I should go to church. It is more practical, more human: Why do I keep going?
History: When I walk into church, there are people doing the same things that people did over a thousand years ago. There are a lot of the same prayers, the same images, and even the same blends of incense. Church gives me a sense of rootedness I lack. It connects me to a history greater than me, especially when I see the saints in the icons surrounding me. It is a reminder that the dead are alive in Christ Jesus, and even those who have fallen asleep, wake up with me in spirit to worship together with me.
Community. For better or worse, the people I worship with are my people. They are my tribe. Church is a place where I have friends. There are people who take an interest in my life and who support me. When I had surgery on my spine a few years ago, people from church made me meals, watched my kids, and even picked me up from work while I recovered. Church is also a place where I have people I do not get along with very well. That is because church is a place where humans are. It is a fact of life; get more than 10 people into a room together, and two of them will not get along. But that does not matter. They are my people anyway. They are family. I do not have to get along with people to behave lovingly toward them.
Grace. I have met more than a few people who quit church because of some kind of “bad experience,” usually the kinds of experiences I just mentioned—the kind where two people do not get along. But the church is not a house for the holy. It is a hospital for sinners. Or to quote an old professor, “The church is the world where the Kingdom happens.” Church is not about finding fault or absolving from blame. It is about learning to be patient with others. It is about learning to give grace and to be humble enough to accept it. Persevering with a bunch of sinners like me is a good reminder of how God perseveres with me.
Now that I think about it, the sense of history I have at church is really just an extension of my sense of community. I keep going to church because it is a place where I feel like I belong, even when, paradoxically, I do not feel like I belong very much at all. The church is my immediate community, and it is greater than my immediate community. It is my past, and it will have been my future. Church is where the saints and angels are. It is also where there are frustrating and fallen human beings. As a Facebook friend said once, “If this weren’t the body of Christ, I’d be so outta here!” But it is the body of Christ, and so I stay. It is not a perfect body. It is broken. Crucified. And I have been crucified to it. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. He lives in all of us. His people. His body. His church.