9:15 a.m., underneath a swatch of colorful leaves, 3 or 4 couples mostly in sweats and jeans walk toward a neighborhood breakfast joint. They look relaxed and comfy. My wife and I, on the other hand, are somewhat less casually dressed, driving to church. We look at each other with a knowing glance. Could we possibly restart the morning, change clothes, walk to breakfast, holding hands all cozy?
The answer? Both of us spent an hour in Sunday School with children who became excited by the ideas they learned about God. That, in turn, inspired us. “Love, Truth, Spirit is my Shepherd,” my students said. The usual cacophony of 12 year old boys made way for a time of actually sharing spiritual ideas with each other and me. If you’ve had 5 young boys together, you know this is akin to raising the dead.
But if you haven’t had a Sunday School experience like this, if you’re not a church goer or you’re on the fence, you might be asking what does a membership card get me?
If you look to studies that suggest there are benefits to going to church, you will find that attending may make you live a longer and healthier life. It may help you stay married. You may find more meaningful relationships that help you to be more successful. There are studies about the health benefits of being grateful, forgiving and selfless – all of which are Sabbath day lessons you expect to hear about and even learn to practice.
But it’s a rare study that says something to the effect that focusing on God while attending a religious ceremony is what heals and preserves life. The fact is that as far as natural sciences go that’s a pretty unmeasurable statistic. How do you measure spiritual experience with material instruments?
Which is probably why few people start their religious experience in a church edifice saying, “Well, I want to live longer or be sick less often so I will start coming to church regularly.” Yet, this could be a very good reason for going to church. What if someone you respected said you could find physical health as well as happiness by drawing closer to God? I think many people might at least say, “Sign me up on a trial basis.”
But they might also say, “Do I really need to be worshipping with others inside a building to find this healing closeness?” Not necessarily. Many find spiritual comfort or inspiration on a hike or with their horse, running a race or skiing the bumps. Church in the conventional sense doesn’t feel essential.
But what about church in an unconventional sense? Mary Baker Eddy, a turn of the century progressive spiritual thinker, was an actual church builder in the literal and spiritual sense. She saw church not just as a physical place where people gather, but as a “structure of Truth and Love”. Beyond bricks and mortar, perhaps this definition indicates that the real value of church is the disciplined and inspired structure it gives for learning about and practicing with others the depth of divine Love and Truth. This learning isn’t only a comfort to oneself and others, but a way to demonstrate the spiritual power to heal any problem one faces. (Healing was a central part of what Eddy saw in Christ Jesus’ directives to his followers, past and present.)
This is where gathering together with others in a place of worship makes perfect sense. By working together with a group of like-minded individuals–and I’m not talking politically or socially, but like-minded in their focus on the Divine–there is a power not only to uplift oneself, but to uplift one’s community, and dare I say even to heal.
I remember an attendee who stood up at a Wednesday evening church meeting to talk about healing. John said that he had come to the service to find some solace for longstanding depression. What he experienced there was a spiritual feeling that changed him. He then explained that a nagging headache that he had had was no longer there and he felt lighter and happier. By being at church with John, the rest of us in attendance got to contribute to and share in cherishing his experience of spiritual healing.
Some may feel healing is too grand an expectation, or even unattainable. But if being active in a church facilitates spiritual growth that includes physical and moral healing, as many of my church friends can attest, maybe this is a good answer to the “what’s in it for me?” question today.
Ultimately, the inspiration one gets from gathering with other spiritual seekers becomes not just an effective way to get centered or recharge, but also a way to share the power of spiritual understanding with a wider community. In this way joining church is not just about joining a place, but about engaging in spiritual activity – the presence and power of “Truth and Love” -, and who doesn’t want to have a membership card to that?
David Price writes on the connection between health, thinking and spirituality. A former attorney, David is the media and legislative representative for Christian Science in Colorado. David is also a Christian Science practitioner with an expertise in prayer-based healing.