Friday, January 29, 2010

Why I attend church

"Why do you attend church? If you don't go, why not?" These were questions asked by Jacqueline at MoxieLife ; she was expanding the audience for these queries from her daughter Paige , who asked them in a letter to her hometown congregation.

I don't have perfect attendance by any means. I miss many summer services, especially Labor Day; how many times can one listen to the local head of the AFL-CIO? I frequently miss guest sermons as well, especially "special musical guests"; how many times can one listen to an overage hippy who sounds like Raffi performing songs written by Al Gore? And sometimes I just need that Sunday morning as a mental health day. (OK, I was up too late Saturday night- stop smirking) But I make around thirty Sundays a year, plus special events, such as graduation parties, going aways, holidays- the only Christmas Eve we've missed was when our plane was snowed in at O'Hare. Plus I facilitate a small group, belong to a service club, and a CUUPs group at another congregation; I spend a fair amount of time at church. Why?

I'll begin with a double negative; what things that deter others fail to deter me? Jacqueline started drifting away while she was caring for her dad, and I can understand that one quite well; sometimes the concern of others can be overwhelming, as I learned when my father in law died . But I had the opposite emotional reaction- as long as people are still talking about him, he's still there.

Neither am I deterred by Paige's complaint: "As UUs it isn't our belief in a god that brings us together, it's a belief in peace and understanding. I don't feel that overwhelming peace when I walk into the doors of our church on Sunday afternoons, and I wish I did." I don't enjoy the battles within our church- regular readers have heard me on the subject repeatedly- but it doesn't keep me away. Why? Maybe it's my advanced age, maybe it's my years in politics, but I never expected anything different. People have opinions, and I expect them to argue about them; a lack of arguing demonstrates only a lack of passion. "Overwhelming peace" is for retreats and contemplative orders of monks and nuns.

Now for the active voice reasons. First, I go because I'm a social creature, and I enjoy the company of others. It's the largest organization I'm interested in joining wherein I'm certain of my welcome. Closely related to this reason is comfort and nostalgia; I was married there, and that wedding was perhaps the last public event my mother was functional enough to attend. People there remember my father in law, and ask about my mother in law, who while alive and well is 3/4 a continent away.

I go because I learn a lot. Not just from Rev. Clear's excellent presentations, but also from coffee hours and general discussions. Where else can I go to have a discussion with hundreds of people who disagree with me? And I'm completely serious- one learns nothing if one only keeps company with those one agrees with- after all, you already know what they think.

I go because I'm "modeling", or what we used to call "living your faith" back in the days before everyone spoke like a humorless philosophy undergrad. If anyone at my congregation is going to say "There are no good reasons to vote against Obama, just one bad one" or "The division isn't between atheist and theist, it's between rational and irrational" or "conservatives aren't capable of rational thought; at best, they can memorize a few facts and parrot them back", they'll have to do it while looking at me- and after 14 years at that congregation, I don't think they can anymore. It's important to see the human face of those one despises; the contrast with the preconceptions usually reveal the stereotypes for what they are. And it's important for me to see the human faces of liberals and atheists, too.

I go to be part of change. All Souls has evolved a lot over the years, and I've been part of that- and I'd like to be part of it in the future as well.


goodwolve said...

Excellent post - thank you so much. I love your reasons for going... and not going. What I think is happening is that all of the people who go have ministers. We don't and the programs (see we don't even call them services) can be trying at best. My daughter and I are rethinking our commitment - we want to make it, but something blocks us. - J

PS: I can't wait to be your age when all the bickering doesn't bother me. ;)

TK said...


I'm a new UU, and I've been asked this question a lot by my family. My brother "believe[s] in God but not in churches." How on earth could I have turned out just the opposite?

I love your reasons for going. I'm much the same. I'm a moderate/ conservative, generally very liberal on social issues but quite conservative on fiscal ones. I think we add an important diversity to the UUs.

Thoroughly enjoying your blog and the R&R one, too. Why did y'all abandon "What I Like About U?" It's such a great name.


Joel Monka said...

goodwolve- thanks for the kind words. Yes, I believe a minister makes a huge difference. Rev. Clear was a big reason I fell in love with All Souls early; had he not been there, I might not have looked past the downers long enough to join. If the smaller congregations who don't currently have at least a part time minister knew how big a difference it made, they'd make an effort to get one.

TK- glad you like the blog! Feel free to comment on anything you see; comments breed more comments! As to "What I Like About UU", that was a joint effort, actually started by someone else, and since something had to give, that was it. I do wish others would start contributing to it, revive it.

Mickbic said...

I was asked last Sunday by a fellow member why I did not go to church that often. I mentioned that I was a loner and that I would probably get burned out if I came regularly.

I believe in what Gibran advised the newly married: let there be space in your togetherness.

Elz said...

It's important to see the human face of those one despises; the contrast with the preconceptions usually reveal the stereotypes for what they are.

Thank you for that perfect sentence.