June 17, 2015 by Pastor Ben McIntire
I did not go to church last Sunday.
This statement plugs me into the majority of Americans, roughly 80% of whom where doing something else with their Sunday morning sabbath. For me, this was an anomaly. As a pastor, I only miss about one or two worship services a year. But this week I was on vacation, one of four Sundays I have off in 2015. Sometimes I attend worship services at a different church on my vacation, but this week I spent some time in God’s creation for a Sabbath rest of a different variety. I was biking part of the Paul Bunyan Trail in Brainerd, Minnesota.
According to the Pew Research Center, the numbers of religiously unaffiliated people (sometimes referred to as “nones” because they mark religious affiliation as “none”) as and those who identify themselves as “spiritual, but not religious” are rising. Some of the theories for this, supported by survey data, are that “nones” feel that religious organizations place too much importance on money and power, focus too much on rules, and are too involved with politics. I’ve heard from a lot of other people that they are busy doing other things, or just don’t feel like going to church because it bores them or they have had a bad experience somewhere along the way.
I know there are a lot of things going on in people’s lives. Believe me, I know the stress of balancing a 50+ hour per week job with raising children and the activities that we do together or individually, not to mention trying to squeeze in chores, exercise and sleep! What that means is that we have to pick and choose what we spend our time doing. There’s the old saying that “you always have time for the things that are important.” We prioritize, we put certain things first and that means some things sit on a back burner until they become a priority or they fade into oblivion. It’s a little like my Netflix queue, some movies I bump to the front of the list when I really want to see them, and others sit there on the list year after year, never moving forward and still remain unseen.
So why does religion have “priority seating” in my life? Is it just because religion is my job as a member of the clergy? No. In fact, my job as a pastor is a second career. I started out in finance, working at Wells Fargo after college. What drove me to a religious career was (the Holy Spirit!) and a desire to find answers to life’s persistent questions. It was a search for meaning, truth, hope, joy and peace. I find those things in the teachings of the Scriptures we call the Bible. I find truth in those stories and words of wisdom. I find hope in the history of God at work in the world, both in ancient Israel and in the life of Jesus Christ and his followers. I find meaning in the life of faith, in serving others in love and trying to live the way Jesus modeled. I find joy in the community of people who share this faith, who gather to worship God, who pray together and who learn how to live out their faith. And I find peace in the promises that God makes to me and everyone else who has sinned and experiences suffering, pain, broken hearts, and sorrow. Those promises are given to me every time I worship in church by the sacrament of communion.
Are there days I would like to sleep in, get the lawn mowed, go to a football game, or do any of the 10,000 other things on my list? Of course. Are there days when I may even feel God’s presence outside the church building walls? Certainly! In fact that’s almost every day! But the fact remains, I have made the community a priority, I have made the religious practices of this community a priority, and all because it sustains me. Even those days when I feel like I’m not getting much out of it, I know that there are others who need to hear a particular word from God, and my presence in the community helps support them in their need.
If you have ever felt bored in worship, if you were hurt by an experience in a church, if you just aren’t sure about the teaching you have heard from a preacher, I hope you will give the community of faith another chance. Who knows? The “religion” you thought disliked may still surprise you, because the point of religion as I know it, is to proclaim God’s love.
You are invited!