Recently, I was struck dumb by a question that should have been easy to answer, “Why do I go to church?” To be honest, my church is going through a discernment process to find our way forward. We have the typical type of church crisis going on: not enough members, not enough money, not enough vision to figure out how to afford and call a long-term priest. We have faced our share of conflict over theology, finances, and clergy. We have lost priests, lost parishioners, and lost pledges. At times, we have lost our enthusiasm, our energy, and our passion. At times, we have flat out lost our patience--with each other and with our situation in the world. Some of us may have lost parts of our faith, or at least questioned it seriously.
So, in order to figure out our path, we are trying to hold real and honest conversations with each other. One night, I sat with a group of my brothers and sisters in the social hall, working through our “stuff”. And when I was posed the obvious question, “What keeps you at St. Ignatius?” I had no earthly idea how to answer. I sat there, tearful, and mute. The obvious answers all felt inadequate; could not speak them. I could not say I came to church for the worship, the fellowship, the formation, the service. Those were just surface-level reasons--not ones that went to the marrow of the bone. That would have been like saying I married my husband because he’s tall and handsome, or that I chose to become a teacher because I like kids. When I contemplated all the love and anger that comprised my church life, all the celebrations and all the conflicts, I answered the only way I could. With tears in my eyes, I said, “I don’t know…”
I thought of the cost-benefit analysis of my church life and I truly wondered why I stayed. I thought of the committees, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and community service. And I thought of the baptisms, weddings, confirmations, and wonderful friends. If I weighed the time, money, and effort I put into church against the joy and love I got out of it, I wasn’t honestly sure how the scales would balance. But, eventually, I also knew that it didn’t matter.
Because as I sat there, waiting, unable to find the words, I realized. I stay at my church because… Because… God…
Because, church is not merely about friends, and fellowship, and service. Church is about God. A God who calls us into relationship with him through our relationships with each other. He is not content to be worshipped from afar, in pristine conditions, in calm and peace. The God of love in Jesus Christ isn’t content to be found on the forests, or on the beach, alone. He is the God who, out of his own love for his own creation, came right down and became a part of all of the mess. He is the God who loved the world so much that he gave himself for it. And he didn’t just give himself to be adored. He gave himself so that we could love him like a real human, and so he could love us back. He showed up and lived with us, while the people misunderstood his message, while his followers fought over who was the best, and while the religious leaders persecuted him. He is the God in Jesus Christ who showed up and taught and loved us, even when we hated him. Even when we killed him. And he showed us that death wasn’t the end. That grace is greater than that. He told us that whenever two or three are gathered, he will be with us. Two or three--not one on our own. So, my friends, go out and find each other. Because the best way to love him is to love each other.
Sitting there, in that holy space, endeavoring to have that holy conversation, I found some truth.
Honestly, I still don’t know why I go to church. I don’t know why God in Jesus Christ loves us so much that he calls us into relationship with each other so that we can see him. I don’t know why I keep showing up and keep loving my fellow Christians. I do not know why--anymore than I know why I said, “Yes” when my husband asked me to marry him, or why I cried when I held my newborn babies for the first time, or why sometimes the Eucharist actually feels like Christ is in the room with me. I don’t know why--but I do believe. I believe that we are meant to figure out how to love each other. I believe there is a mystery hidden deep in the heart of us and in the heart of the world. And that mystery is wrapped in love. And that love lives in each other.
So, I will show up again. And I will hear the word. And I will say confession. And I will kiss my brothers and sisters with the kiss of peace. And I will eat and drink of the body and blood of Christ. And I will go out into the world to love and serve the Lord.
Because… Well… Because… God.