We need to go back to church.
I feel like a little old lady wagging a scolding finger when I write that, and the last thing I want to do is wag a finger or scold. I don’t mean that everyone needs an actual church– other faith communities (and secular organizations) can provide similar connections and care. And certainly, churches have been the repositories of abusive and toxic cultures that have harmed far too many people for far too long.
Still, the majority of Americans could find solace and community and healing and connection to a transcendent, loving, guiding power of love and grace in the context of the most prevalent religious institution in America, the local church.
Here are some thoughts on how to find a church:
1. Ask around.
I was looking for a church that would welcome a family with a child with Down syndrome on behalf of a friend in another town. I emailed a few friends who lived in that town and within a day I had five diverse and interesting options. Even as the church in America declines, there are still lots of them.
2. Look for an ordinary church.
Churches filled with ordinary people who read the Bible, serve communion, pray, eat together, care for one another, and care for their communities are not impressive or entertaining. They have plenty of flaws, but they are less likely to be developing narcissistic leaders and toxic cultures. (I wrote an essay recently for Religion News Service about the power of ordinary churches.)
3. Expect welcome.
Don’t expect theology that you agree with on every point. Don’t expect all the musical offerings to accord with your taste. Don’t expect riveting sermons on a weekly basis. Don’t expect people to always remember your name. BUT do expect a spirit of hospitality, kindness, respect, and loving curiosity. Do expect a slightly awkward but sincere invitation to drink mediocre coffee and eat chicken salad in a badly lit fellowship hall. Do expect to have some of your needs met. Do expect to be needed, but not exploited. Do expect to find a people who want you to belong with them.
Our nation is experiencing a crisis of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Ordinary churches are one part of what we need to become people of connection, joy, hope, peace, and love.
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