Monday, January 30, 2006

Every 7th Day

Early on in my career I learned that the most consistent challenge faced in ministry is that every seventh day is Sunday. Seems like a big "duh" to most people, but until I did it, I had no idea the pressure of every seventh day.

Most of those who claim affiliation with a particular congregation don't go to church every Sunday. There are still a few who do, but they are a very few. (And I love each and every one of your little pea-pickin' hearts.)

A Catholic priest recently opined to my friend Joan, "Other than illness or death, there is no reason a church member should ever miss church." Gutsy, I thought. In my religious tradition many members view church attendance like they consider restaurant choices: it's there when I want it or need it, but I don't need to go every week.

My colleagues in other traditions (Methodist, Presbyterian, Jewish) say they see the same attendance policy in their houses of worship. It doesn't make a lot of sense, because the benefits of regular attendance for those who have already commited themselves to a religious tradition far outweigh the effort of getting there. Two of the top problems of congregations - communication and lay leadership burnout could be minimized by regular attendance on the part of all members. Showing up every week is also more rewarding to the member. Most people say they join churches of my tradition to be with like-minded individuals. The easiest way for anyone to be together is to meet regularly at an agreed upon time.

Religion is not only spirituality. It is not only belief. You can be spiritual alone, and you can believe whatever you want alone. Religion is when the community of faith and shared belief joins together. You can't be religious alone.

Are too many religious people more faithful to their favorite TV show than to their faith community? I don't know. I do know that being part of the process, celebration, fellowship, and community that is every seventh day in my life is marvelous. And discouraging.

Marvelous because every seventh day I see the living active expression of what I believe in most dearly. Discouraging because, at most, only half of the members are ever there at one time to see it with me. Much of the pressure of the seventh day is the knowledge that I am competing with lethargy, mother nature, soccer season, bloody mary specials, and the comics for members' attention. The rest of the pressure is the certain knowledge that when life falls apart, the expectations on the garden, the soccer ball, and Beetle Bailey are nonexistent.

Just something to ponder in the line for the Sunday brunch buffet.

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