BY AMY WALTON |
On Sundays when I was growing up, the conversation on the ride home from church usually was the same topic, and it wasn’t about the pastor’s message.
No. My parents listed out loud, name by name, who was not at church that day. They would often say things such as, “I wonder where so and so was” or “He hasn’t been to church in months.” The subject occasionally resumed around the kitchen table, except those talks went a step further to include the whole town.
Yes, as we licked our fingers enjoying mama’s fried chicken, we talked about who in our little town did not attend any church. Let the record show that my family and I did not continue this tradition in our own home, and that includes the chicken!
According to the results of a Gallup poll released earlier this year, church membership has—for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade trend—dropped below 50%. In the US, 7 out of 10 are affiliated with an organized religion, but less than half have a formal membership with a specific church.
We continue to live in a pandemic. COVID-19 cases are increasing again, but businesses and schools are now open, as are churches. After my recent return from Hawaii, I was thrilled to return home to Virginia to live an unmasked life. In fact, I yanked my mask off my vaccinated self the moment I exited the airport. When I returned to my gym, smiling and showing my teeth, I was happy to see so many people back working out.
Now I am wearing a mask again in large gatherings, due to the Delta variant and increasing COVID-19 cases. However, I’m overjoyed to be back in church and singing to the rafters! With so many churches closing doors and moving to online services for most of 2020, it’s such a breath of fresh air being in church, worshiping, and singing with others. I’m seeing folks getting involved in ministries and Bible studies with a new or renewed sense of spiritual growth and service.
At the same time, though, many (or perhaps, most) churches are still not seeing the attendance they had before the pandemic closures. I’ve asked several friends why they have not returned to church, and I’ve heard different responses: They’ve gotten out of the habit of going. They have decided organized religion, including nondenominational, isn’t for them. They’ve chosen to continue their home practices of worship and watching services online. They are still not comfortable being in crowds with COVID cases increasing again.
How do I usually respond to these replies? I respect that many vaccinated and unvaccinated people still aren’t completely comfortable being in large gatherings, but I try to remind my friends that WE are the church universal; and while we don’t need bricks and mortar to be Christ to others, we do need to unite and function as the Body of Christ.
Now is a perfect time for renewing our Christian community and our commitment to being Christ to others!
Jesus and his disciples were always in community-with each other and with the many people they served and touched. While the Lord Himself knew the importance of going to quiet places to pray, He seems—at least in the Gospels, to usually be in community. He broke bread with his apostles and others, including outcasts. He sat in the temple as a child, listening to and questioning the teachers, and we can assume He also worshiped. He healed. He washed feet. He taught, and he performed many miracles, including the feeding of thousands from a few fish and loaves of bread.
The early church was all about community. They, too, broke bread, shared resources, and reached out to others. Like Jesus, many probably spent time alone with God, but they also knew the importance of Christian community.
Look at our Moravian Church. Talk about community! Can you imagine our church forming and flourishing based on only one person’s actions? In Herrnhut, Count Zinzendorf and the Brethren held all-night prayer vigils, studied scripture together, and formed “bands,” small groups that would pray for and encourage each other. They lived in community, engaging in skills and training; and from this Christian community sprang the first missionaries and a church that now ministers around the world in its various communities, including wonderful camping and conference centers like Laurel Ridge.
Church and community… we need this.
In her best-selling book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, the late Rachel Held Evans wrote, “The Church is God saying, ‘I’m throwing a banquet, and all these mismatched, messed-up people are invited. Here, have some wine.’”
Let’s face it: We’re all broken and hurt people.
And we need community.
I often glance around the worship space at my church and wonder what or who has drawn us there. Personally speaking, I have a need to worship, and I desire to be part of Christian community, mismatched and messy though we may be.
You may recall the childhood rhyme where you used your hands and said.
Here is the church. Here is the steeple.
Open the doors and see all the people.
Our sanctuaries and Christian community are awaiting us. Let’s be more than faceless fingers on hands. Now is a perfect time to re-engage and BE the church.
Let’s fling wide the doors and enter with praise and thanksgiving. Let’s gather with our fellow seekers and believers, regardless of how crushed and down we may be. We are a redeemed people. We are the church. We are community.
And Christ is counting on us to serve.
About the author
Amy Walton is a certified life coach, certified Christian life coach, speaker, and writer who has lived in coastal Virginia for nearly 30 years. A native of Mayodan, North Carolina, she was baptized, confirmed, and raised in Mayodan Moravian Church, where she remains an Associate Member. Connect with her at www.HolyGrounding.com or [email protected].