The Pew

Silent Shot (Creative Commons)

Recently, a friend shared with me that her daughter confided she no longer felt she was getting anything out of attending church.  My friend wondered, “Does she need to actually sit in a pew?” It’s a good question, and a question which probably has more than one good answer. Ideally, any one of us would benefit from sitting in the pew. Scripture is pretty clear that we need to attend church so we can worship God with other believers, and be taught His Word for our spiritual growth. It is in church where believers can love one another, encourage one another, spur one another on, honor one another and be kind and compassionate to one another.

But what if none of these scriptural aspects of church are part of someone’s reality? What if sitting in the pew does not bring love, encouragement, compassion, or faith. In short, what if their experience while sitting in the pew just stinks? God knows I’ve been there too – sat in plenty of church pews when I wondered what on earth I was doing there, or if anyone even cared that I was present? I truly can understand where this young woman is coming from. I get it, and I feel badly that she currently feels as if her church has let her down or become irrelevant to her life. Let me be clear in saying that I wish everyone would regularly attend church, and that when they attended they would feel God’s love, and find it beneficial and applicable to their lives.

One hour to come and sit quietly

My younger brother Kevin used to live life to its fullest, so much so that he is no longer alive. Kevin died as a passenger in his own car, the driver having fallen asleep behind the wheel. One memory I have of Kevin, during his brief 25 years here on earth was that no matter how late he partied the Saturday night before, no matter how little sleep he had or how he felt, no matter what was on his schedule for that particular Sunday morning, that at 7:30 a.m. you could faithfully find Kevin attending the first Sunday Mass  of the day at St. Bernadette’s in Springfield, VA . Sometimes he was alone, sometimes he was joined by some of his friends, but he was always there. If you asked Kevin why he attended church every week he would tell you what he told me, that it was his “one hour to come and sit quietly before God, taking stock of his past week, while asking God to bless his next week.”

How we each experience God

When I was first ordained, a young couple came in for marriage preparation. I always found it odd that an engaged couple would come to a confirmed celibate priest for marriage preparation, but that’s a topic for another time! The couple came in and were understandably nervous.  After trying to put them at ease and getting to know them a little better, I segued to the church’s formal interview. One of the questions was if they “regularly attended Mass.” He shared that he did not. She shared that she didn’t attend Mass regularly either, and that she found she experienced God more fully while she was riding her horse through open fields. They both looked at me for my response.

I found their honesty refreshing, and we entered into a dialogue about how we each experienced God.  I asked them to please consider joining us for one of our services, that perhaps now as a couple, they might begin to discover a new-found sacramental experience of God together. They seemed stunned I didn’t smack their noses with a rolled up newspaper, as if they were badly behaved puppies. To my mind, they were adults who had some tough experiences with the institutional church. When they found ways to separate themselves from what they perceived as a fruitless experience, they did. I had this one conversation to do all I could to respect them and listen to them. One conversation to let them know that I loved them and heard them – that I wanted to welcome them home, and ask if they might consider giving us another try.

Thank him for the past week and bless our next week

For me, I can’t seem to not attend church. I love it … crave it … need it. I want to do nothing else with my life other than live more fully what it means to be part of an intentional Christian community where we live out what it means to follow Christ. In church I’m not always fed. I don’t always feel as if it relates to my life nor that anyone else really cares if I was present.  But, most importantly, I know God cares. Of all of God’s commandments, He has perhaps the most to say about the fourth, which was about worshipping Him. God commands us to attend. God commands us to sit in the pew. God commands us to worship Him. To separate ourselves from our ordinary day-to-day lives and come together with others who seek Him. Sitting in the pew, we come together with others who are doing the best they can to live this life as closely aligned with God’s will as possible. Sitting in the pew, we come together, as my brother Kevin said, to thank Him for the past week, and ask Him to bless our next week.

Some of us are further blessed to belong to a Eucharistic community where we believe that we truly receive the Body and Blood of Christ as food for this life’s journey. I know that for me, sometimes regardless of whatever else is accomplished at the service, it is awesome being together to remember what Christ did for us, and to recall what He wants to do for us even now – feed us and be with us forever.

It still remains true, though, that not everyone feels called to sit in a pew. They just don’t. Maybe someday they will feel called – or be invited to join together with us. Until that time, may each of us do all we can to create environments where those who do not feel called are respected, heard, seen, loved and invited to consider sometime, perhaps even now, giving us another try in the pew!

Prayers for us all on the journey.

Peace friends,

Chuck

 

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