Why do we go to church? Why do you go to Church? Why should we go to church? Why is it important to go to church?
These are questions to ponder in your own heart. And to come back to over and over.
We could talk about many, many different reasons why we should go to church. Why we gather together in Community and Communion to ponder and treasure the words of faith and God….
I don’t always give you answers, but today, I will give you answers (some). Some concrete answers. I will tell you exactly why you should go to church and why it just might be very important.
I’ll let you come up with your own “relationship to God” reasons. Your “relationships to one another” reasons. I’ll leave you to reflect on your own emotional reasons and seeking reasons: faith, hope, love, comfort, service…even the shadow-y-er reasons like guilt and shame and that dreaded word I just used a lot already: should.
I’m going to tell you that going to church is good for you. It’s good for your health. It’s so good for your health that is lessens your risk of…dying. Yes, exactly. Going to church reduces your risk of death.
I’ll be the first to say that I am fairly skeptical of “studies”. But a study was shared with me that is pretty telling. People who attend church die less*.
Yes, I know we’re not getting out of death in the grand scheme of things, but frequent attendance (and I will admit, this is a pre-covid study, so what does “attendance” mean is definitely up for debate) lowers over all all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality and cancer mortality in women (sorry guys, the study was done with women; women nurses to be precise). In fact, the study assesses: halving the likelihood of premature death. In cases of cardiovascular disease: reducing the risk by 20% and in cancer cases: reducing the risk by 14%. That’s quite a bit.
There’s a lot of “geeky” stuff in the study that I won’t dig into here, but it’s a really impressive design for looking objectivity into something that is subjective. It also invented a specific “test” to account for all those unmeasured variables (like maybe people went bowling, or took nature walks, and that’s why they die less and it’s not church, but that’s accounted for). People who attend religious services are less likely to die.
Religion and spirituality is a “forgotten” or “ignored” part of health and wellness, but it’s coming back into play. The World Health Organization defines health as “physical, mental, and social wellbeing”. Most spiritual traditions, including Christianity, understand the need for physical, mental, social, and spiritual wellbeing to be a truly healthy human being. A being able to do good work.
One of the four pillars of health according to the Alzheimer’s Association is Spiritual-Religious health. A core foundation of addiction programs (including AA and 12 step) is belief in a higher power and trusting that higher power. This study didn’t dig into why people go to church, just that they attended and did they die…that’s it. Attendance.
And maybe we didn’t need a study to tell us this. Church gives us a community, a higher purpose, and a personal purpose. That’s going to feed health and wellness, mental and physical. In fact, lack of motivation to attend church can be sign of disease and illness.
We’ve gotten away from even talking about God and faith with one another. It’s one of the “avoided” subjects: don’t talk religion or politics. Although politics doesn’t seem to be that taboo anymore….
We don’t talk about our faith and spirituality and it’s impacting our wellness and our ability to face change and challenges. We aren’t as resilient. We aren’t thriving…
Thriving: grit, spirit, humility, and self care. In thriving cultures, this is friendship and institutions that support us. Church (and communities of faith)).
Look at the rituals we have, and are losing, that help us to “move through” stages of life. We don’t really have moving into adulthood rituals or celebrations anymore. Our weddings have become less formal and less rich with ritual. Baptism, sometimes I think that’s more about fear than love.
We struggle with dying and accepting it. We don’t want to discuss it. We call it a celebration of life. We focus on “closure”. We’re not as good at accepting and sharing that it’s a struggle and a process that takes time and companionship. Safe places to process and begin to cope with loss, and yes, the reality of our own mortality. We try to move on and pretend it’s all ok, because it’s scary to think about and we often don’t know what to do or say or how to be. Church give us a place to bring our fears, and find comfort. It brings us good company to bear witness with us along the journey of life.
We are tired, ill, and burned out. We are burned out from burn out. We aren’t as resilient, which we’re seeing more clearly through covid. We didn’t know how to enter this challenge, we’re struggling within it, we have no idea how to “move through” and adapt to what is inevitable change. We’re not sure how to get to the other side. How to adapt to a new way of living. And there are truly some beautiful things to be gleaned and learned from this challenge…if we can acknowledge and accept.
Spirituality and religion (church) helps. It gives us purpose and connection, especially when we feel lost and confused. It gives us and anchor.
Church gives us a place to thrive and, according to this study, survive. We feel well and we do good. We find our place.
Let’s use Hildegard of Bingen’s words for thriving, resilience, and well being. She’s a German Mystic, Saint, and also lesser known: she’s something of a doctor. I think she really hones in this place of humanity and grace. She calls it greening, growing, and flourishing.
Without it, we wither, shrink, and die. And according to the studies…we need one another to green, grow, and flourish. We need community, a higher purpose, and a personal purpose. God, Church, and one another.
Perhaps, as we head into a place of what’s often being called: a “post religious society” that perhaps we need to reconsider what’s important to be sharing and discussing at the dinner table, maybe it should not be politics, but God and love. And maybe, just maybe, we need church communities (and church-like places for our other Friends in Faith) to grow and thrive and tend.
Perhaps, we have a lot to ponder…
*Association of Religious Service Attendance with Mortality Among Women (Meir, Stampfer, Williams, Vander/Wheele)