Being on sabbatical has already provided a space for me to ask some important questions about my life. What is my ongoing call to ministry, both in the congregation I continue to serve and beyond? What do I really do with all my time at “work”? How does my work impact my daily life and living?
Most importantly, though, I’ve wondered a bit about why I go to church. I’ve now had two Sundays where I had no responsibilities to lead worship, and yet I still went to church. Some of my friends – in church and otherwise – were a bit astonished at this. They suggested that on my sabbatical I should actually try living like most of the world does, sleeping in, reading the Times, enjoying a favorite morning beverage in my pajamas at home, etc. While I might still try this out sometime in the eight Sundays that remain of my sabbatical, I think I’ll most likely end up in church every week.
Why, you might ask? Well, here are four good reasons.
- Repetition. There is something important about setting aside regular time to gather with a community – even an unfamiliar one – to sing praise, listen to God’s Word proclaimed, and spend time in prayer for God’s world. Sometimes even the most familiar words can speak in a new and different way to the experiences of the moment. All this repetition makes worship a very important part of my week, and something feels off if I miss it.
- Tradition/Habit. I’ve worshiped nearly every Sunday I can remember. In high school, in a time when my parents were not active in the church, I kept going. I can count on one hand the number of Sundays in college I was in town that I missed worship. For better or for worse, my life doesn’t feel the same when I’m not in a church for at least a little while on Sunday. Normally, “we’ve always done it that way” is a really awful reason t0 continue practices in the church, but in this case, I think it is a valid and reasonable way of thinking.
- Community. I grew up surrounded by a very personal orientation of faith, where the individual’s actions and perspective were incredibly important and participation in a community of belief and practice was not nearly as important. Over the years, though, I’ve come to believe that I can’t take this walk alone. There remain times when the faith of the community “bears me through the swelling current.” Worship reminds me that I do not walk this road alone, that I have companions on this journey whom I may or may not know, and that I can trust God to keep working and keep speaking beyond my understanding and even my comfort zone.
- Preaching. I’m a good Presbyterian, so this comes as no surprise. Wherever I worship, I need the Word to be proclaimed in faith, hope, and love. As I plan my worshiping communities this summer, I’m not beyond checking church websites to see who is preaching and what the text might be! Still, I trust that what I will hear is inspired by the Spirit and will open me to what I need to hear on a particular day. I found this very much to be true this past Sunday as I worshiped at St. Bart’s Church in Manhattan. Their current priest-in-charge (very similar to a designated pastor in the Presbyterian system) is also a native Mississippian, and his words about home resonated so well with me in my thinking about my home state and even my understanding of home in the Presbyterian Church (USA) after attending General Assembly last week. I couldn’t have asked for a better word in the midst of these times, and I was beyond grateful for it.
So over the course of these two months, I plan to keep up my practice of worship as best I can. There’s also the reality that I am doing reading and thinking about worship revitalization while on sabbatical, so experience worship in different styles and forms will be incredibly important all around. There will likely be a week or two where I can’t do this for practical reasons, but on the whole I plan to be quite the churchgoer for a New Yorker in July and August! Look for more on these things as the sabbatical progresses.