An author, who is in her 30’s, recently wrote an article that appeared on the op-ed page of a national newspaper. The article was about, of all things, going to church and what she wrote is well worth passing along, I think.
And what she wrote, basically, is that the new way of going to church that has become very popular with many in her generation and others as well is just not for her. In other words, “internet church” is not for her. Internet church is simply church online, church services that are live-streamed and can be watched on a smart-phone or iPad or other device. Such services have become popular because, as the author writes, they’re more in line with many people’s life-styles. Convenience is everything — you don’t have to get up and go anywhere but can worship in the comfort and convenience of your own home, even pray for others via app or web forum. More and more people, she says, prefer consuming church the way they consume the news and to interact with fellow members on the internet rather than face-to-face on Sunday morning.
The author notes that live-streaming church services is actually not all that new — it is akin to tape recording services which churches have done for years. And she writes that the intention behind such services is good since it does make church available to all, in particular, to the homebound. But still, she says, for her internet church isn’t really church because being together is the whole point of church.
She admits that at her stage in life it would be a lot easier not to go to church. Frankly, she says, showing up in person can be exhausting when you have a six-month-old baby who wakes up from his morning nap shortly before church begins — she and her husband rushing to get him dressed and fed and in the car, running late, out of breath as they scurry in looking for a seat, the service well underway. Add another small child or two to the mix and you’ve got exhaustion enough to just skip the whole ordeal and stay home. But then this can be true, she writes even for those who aren’t dealing with children but with other challenges. Going to church is not easy for a lot of people.
And yet she says that for her attending church is nonnegotiable and every Sunday, unless she’s out of town, that’s where you’ll find her — sitting on a padded, stackable chair in a room at the Russian cultural center her church rents for their services, parked under a disco ball listening to a sermon about Jesus. And it is nonnegotiable for her because she believes that God is primarily present to us not as individuals but as a community of believers, just as Jesus taught, and Paul after him. We approach God, she asserts, by being part of a community, not in isolation from others.
The author knows, however, that this doesn’t go down well with many believers and that American Christianity is headed away from gathering with others in a church and toward staying at home and worshipping alone. But for her the individual, isolated experience is a poor substitute for actually going to church. She writes, “In an era when everything from dates to grocery delivery can be scheduled and near instant, church attendance shouldn’t be one more thing to get from an app. We can be members of a body best when we are all together — we can mourn when we observe and wipe away tears, just as we can rejoice when we can share smiles and have face-to-face conversations. Studies show that regular attendance at religious services correlates with better sleep, lower blood pressure in older adults and a reduced risk of suicide. I doubt these same phenomena occur when online church is substituted for the real thing, because the truth is that community is good for us. We need one another.” The author goes on to write that when she and her husband were dealing with their second miscarriage and the nausea and anxiety got so bad there were days when she couldn’t get out bed at all, let alone attend church, the church came to her — meals, books to read, prayers said, flowers, visits when she was hospitalized, more meals and flowers when she got home. Community, church, was what got her through.
So, in spite of often being pulled in a dozen different directions, the most powerful pull on her is the pull toward those stackable chairs, the bread and the wine, and people who are the church to her. “This, then,” she writes, “is the beauty of the church; not that it is perfect or convenient or fits easily into my life but that without it, my life would be deficient. I could still believe in God without the church, could celebrate Christmas without it, or go once a year. But I don’t believe I would truly be a Christian without the real, in-person, Sunday morning church. Disco ball and all.”
Needless to say, I agree. And you?
God be with you,