Why do I still go to church?

Because we drive by the farms on the edge of town and the tinies watch for sheep.  Because I almost always consider pulling over on the side of the road just to take photos of our Sunday drive: the crisp blue sky and the sharp green rolling hills, the turning-red blueberry bushes squatted across the fields, the rise of the mountains in the haze of morning, but how can you Instagram the rush of cold air in your lungs and how it makes you feel so beautifully, so fully, alive?

Because we walk in and Pat will hug me while she hands Joe the bulletin. Because after a week of Facebook and school pick-ups and drop-off lines, a week of writing and laundry, a week of working and to-do lists, I hear my name called out in the lobby and, maybe for just a moment, someone sees me.  Because we laugh with one friend, ask how another one’s health is doing, figure out who needs a meal this week. We exchange quick hugs as placeholders for the conversation that might unfold this week or next, maybe next month. We engage in all the small talk that precedes the heart-talks. I hear about a dear young couple whose baby might be coming home soon and now I’ve got a little tunic to knit for a beloved and longed-for baby to cast on later this afternoon.  Because someone is always glad to see my tinies. Because these are their friends. Because my tinies head for the kid table of colouring pages and crayons just to offer up a high five to their children’s pastor, they are home.  Because we sit in folding chairs in a rather drafty school gym and our tinies sprawl on the floor at our feet or perch on our hips or stand beside us and watch it all, all, all, taking it in.  This is what we do on Sundays, we tell them, we live it with them, we gather.

Because my friend Tracy leads worship, she wears biker boots and sometimes her hair is pink. Because when she begins to stomp those boots on that wooden stage and when she stretches her arms out wide, tips her head back and cries out to God like she believes it, it makes me want to sit down and cry. Because the guy who play the piano sings old Keith Green songs, the same ones I used to sing to my babies in the sleepless nights. Because my son wants to sit in the front row. Because my toddler raises her hands up and warbles and hollers a song, she thinks she’s singing along, and no one gives her a dirty look. Because my eldest is twirling in the back with her best friends, eager for the worship dance class starting in November.

Because that couple over there just got married and that other one has been married for forty years. Because that dad has his arm around his teenage son and that lady took my exhausted friend’s little baby right out of her arms with a gentle smile and said, go on, you go on and sing or sit down, I’ll look after her for a little while, and I saw my friend’s eyes well up with thankful tears. Because this guy is in recovery and that guy is his sponsor. Because all these teenagers like to sing their hearts out and because I can hear babies and restless toddlers making noise without restraint.

Because I love to sing and where else in our lives do we get to sing communally anymore? Because I love happy-clappy choruses and sober hymns, because “I love you, Lord” sounds so beautiful in my own mouth. Because I love to worship with my people, and these are my people.  Because I chat in the always-long line-up for tea and coffee.

Because I sit beside my husband and we whisper back and forth during the sermon, it’s the closest we get to date night some months. Because we know and love our pastors for their humanity, not in spite of it, for their expansive pastoral hearts that make room for all of us, because of the way they show up for us. Because sometimes it’s an amazing sermon and sometimes it’s, um, not. Because we pass the bread and the cup, and we give each other communion and there is room at the table for everyone in this room.

Because I’ll see this little group of people on Thursday night for our Bible study, and that is where we’ll talk about the real stuff, show up, be disappointed and forgive, love each other a bit more every week. We’re friends now, but I see the promise of a sense of family coming.

Because even though the phrase “going to church” kind of bugs me (we don’t go, we are), and even though it’s messy and imperfect, even though I’ve let them down and they have let me down, even though there are disappointments, even though I don’t agree with everybody and they probably think I’m crazy sometimes, too, even though I don’t think we need an official sanctioned Sunday morning thing to be part of the Body of Christ, because even though I think the Church crosses a lot of our self-made boundaries and preferences and gatekeepers, I keep choosing this small family out of hope and joy.  

Because I want my children to grow up with the imperfect community of God like I did.Because I want to reclaim my heritage of faith as worthy of intention. Because I need to receive and I need to give. Because I want the tinies to know that however much I mess up, however much I fall short of my own ideals, I was planted in the house of God because this is where I practice it, learn it, start all over again. Because I want my tinies to know what my voice sounds like when I sing Amazing Grace.

Because at the end of the service, they practice the priesthood of all believers and anyone can pray for anyone else. Just go ahead and pray, go ahead. Talk to each other, you don’t need a sanctioned commissioning, you are already part of this Body so go on then.

Because I need to be around people who love Jesus, too.  Because I know Jesus better when I hear about Him from other people who follow Him, too. Because I almost always encounter the Holy Spirit in a profound, sideways sort of way when we’re gathered together in His name.

Because then I leave and I go back out into my world, my neighbourhood, my life, and there is always the promise of next week. Because some of my greatest wounds have come from church and so my greatest healing has happened here, too.

In a fractured and mobile and hyper customized and individualized globalized world, intentional community – plain old church – feels like a radical act of faith and sometimes like a spiritual discipline. We  show up at a rented school and drink a cup of tea with the people of God and remember together, who we are, why we live this life, and figure out all over again how to be disciples of The Way, because we are people of hope.

A repost from the archives

In which it's your turn: should an egalitarian attend a complementarian church?
In which we are learning the unforced rhythms of grace :: my If:Gathering devotional
thank you for sharing...
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  • Yes, yes and yes again! I start looking forward to Sundays somewhere around Wednesday, if not earlier, because of these very things. Praise God for His design for His church! It’s so imperfectly perfect!

  • mizmelly

    I’ve got to write you another letter. All about my church and how just when I thought I had run out of reasons to keep going, God started moving, even in grumpy little old cynical me and with one little step of faith, I’ve started connecting again. Keep an eye on your mailbox x

  • rayhollenbach

    Twenty years ago I heard a poem in which the poet sees the world in vibrant hues, and she made the world come alive for me, too. The poem with the simple phrase, “My lover kissed my eyes.”
    My prayer before “going to” church: “Jesus, kiss my eyes.”

  • Brianna DeWitt

    So much yes to all of this. There have been times when I felt like I almost couldn’t keep going to church, but when I did I found so much good there. I actually wrote a letter to younger me, the one who didn’t want to keep going: http://awritespot.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/dear-me-go-to-church/

  • This is beautiful! You put into words a struggle both myself and my husband have faced over the past year. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  • Well, took the words right out of my mouth. Or rather, my fingertips. I have a post ready for my blog that reads so similar. I love the church, Christ’s imperfect bride. Thank you for loving it too!!

  • Blaine Bartel

    BOOM!! So good Sarah… sharing!!

  • Denise

    Thank you, Sarah. I’m on a sabbatical right now from church, and have been nervous about the reentry, whenever that happens. Reading this give me hope that I can “go to church” again in a healthier way than I did before.

  • I think this is a lovely counterpoint to Donald Miller’s piece this week. Both are true and beautiful sides of the same diamond. You may have even inspired me to bite the bullet and go back to church …. But I’m just not there yet.

  • D

    I’ve been debating whether or not church is still worth doing. This gave me a lot of good food for thought. Thanks.

  • Liz

    Its wonderful to hear how your church is so inclusive of the children. I’ve been thinking about trying church again after 10 years away for many of the reasons you describe. But every church I’ve visited sends the kids off to a separate program. When I’m new and I don’t know anyone, I really don’t want to leave my babies with strangers. So I sit in the back, with restless toddlers, in a room full of quiet adults, and I try to catch bits and pieces of the service so that I can figure out if its a place we should try again. Lately its been the most stressful hour of the week and I’m ready to give up.

  • Missy

    Take that Don Miller.

  • Saskia Wishart

    Tracy does have really fabulous style…
    <3 love this post. Even in the messiness of church, we keep on keeping on for all those reasons and so many more.

  • Amen.

    After reading Donald Miller’s post I thought about writing something like this but knew I’d have trouble articulating the poetry of church. And I literally thought to myself, “Sarah Bessey needs to write something about this. She’d be able to say it.”

    Turns out you already had. 🙂

  • Orangeandpaisleystyle.com

    Beautiful!

  • “Because I know Jesus better when I hear about Him from other people who follow Him, too.”

    And

    “Because some of my greatest wounds have come from church and so my greatest healing has happened here, too.”

    Yes.

  • I love this! I think a piece of my soul was awakened with these words about why we need the mess called the church. It is so easy to stay away because of hurt or just not wanting to, but we really *do* need each other.

  • Jenny Call

    I so needed this, thank you. While it was meaningful to me the first time you posted it, the timing of the repost is God ordained, it seems. I’m struggling to find my way and God’s calling in a hurting church right now. I just wrote about why I (hope to) stay but I love the beauty of your words and images instead of the arguments going through my mind. http://www.hopecalls.blogspot.com/2014/01/why-i-left-churchand-why-i-returned.html?m=1

  • This is beautiful. This describes church as it should be. Thanks Sarah.

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  • Amy Thedinga

    That sounds amazing Sarah. Trouble is, after 38 years going to church and being raised by a pastor I still haven’t found my people. I’ve found popularity contests and elitist mentalities and a “throw you away if you don’t fit our mold” culture in the church. I’m hanging in there. Mostly for my children’s sake. But I hope and pray to find a community of love and acceptance like the one you described some day.

  • Kerri

    I’ve been reading posts like this and those by people like Don Miller. It all makes me want to cover my eyes and scream “STOP!!” Don’t you all get it? We ARE the church! It doesn’t matter whether you go to a service or whether you just love Jesus and others through day to day life – you are all pointing fingers – no matter how poetically you try to say it – no matter how non judgemental you try to make yourself seem. Don’t you understand you’re hurting me? you’re hurting each other? We NEED each other – Don Miller is part of church – you are part of church – I am part of church – church IS us. not a service! not not a service!! We need to stop talking about why we go to church or why we don’t – we need to start talking about loving each other no matter WHERE we’re at! Its shaping up to an us and them army stance. Let’s not go there! Let’s not even talk about it! Let’s just LOVE each other however best we can – however broken we are. We are one body – we all need each other – we can’t say – we don’t need you – you’re not part of us! Where’s Jesus in that? I’m glad you go to church Sarah! I’m so glad you find fellowship there – you find love there! But if you wrote this in response to another post – don’t you see? Where’s the grace? Where’s the “everything is grace?”. No matter how beautifully you write – how poetically – people will read this post and say “I should be going to a service. I’m in the right to go” or we will think you’re saying that people who don’t go DON’T think community is worth intention. Do you really want to point the finger like that? Community is not just found in a church service. Let’s stop taking sides – let’s choose NOT to. let’s love each other wherever we’re at. Please? This is all really hurting me. Let’s lay down our weapons of beautifully put words – logical sounding arguments – let’s choose peace – let’s choose each other – however different we are.

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  • This was absolutely beautiful. Thank you for putting flesh on the “why”. The Bride of Christ is beauty indeed – precious.

  • MarySue Foster

    Yes.

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  • Thanks for reposting this, Sarah. I am a church girl. I love the local church. It makes my heart so sad when people, especially women, say they can’t find a church of people who will love them. I know my church isn’t perfect and we’ve probably offended someone along the way, but my deepest hope is that we do love to the best of our ability and that Jesus shines in, on, and through us.

  • A lovely meditation on community. Thanks for sharing this! By the by, my wife is loving Jesus Feminist. Haven’t read it yet, but love the excerpts and the little crumbs my wife throws out to me! 8^)

  • Beautiful post, Sarah. As a gay man in a conservative church, there’s a lot of room for disagreement. But what I mostly see is grace. We don’t quite understand each other, but we value relationships and our history. I stay because I’m part of a congregation that listens and lives out community. So far it’s worth it. I hope there’s a day when most gay Christians like myself find the beauty in church that you described, Sarah. Community in the church is a luxury many of us don’t feel free to participate in at the point in history. It’s such a vital part of our faith, which makes it all the more tragic.

  • Sarah Blocher

    100% agree with you! I have the same thought of my local assembly and love that through screens we can also connect with others who have the same goals and ideas! Church is both local and global and both are so essential!!!

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  • Jacob Lupfer

    This is really wonderful to read because it speaks to the spiritual and the community (can we really separate the two?) I have noticed that, even for the most ardent fundamentalists, church is rarely about doctrine. As the Stanford anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann has observed, people go to church to experience joy and to learn how to have more of it. And she reminds us that even the great sociologist Emile Durkheim said that people don’t go to church because they believe in God; they believe in God because they go to church.

  • Jake

    So where is worshipping God in this? Church is for worshipping God, not about the atmosphere. Everything, attitude, thought, songs, should all be to Him, not about us at all. This article is all about I go to church because of myself… not because of God.

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  • So good to read this again.
    I am hoping to find a little home like this soon.
    Thank you, dear Sarah, for reminding me why.

  • wnhen@aol.com

    So glad you have this community. I have been going to a church for 35 years. It used to be a lot more like yours than it is now, but it is my community. In my plan for 2014, under the topic “Invest in Community” I make the committment to continue singing in the choir, continue on in the Deacons, and dontinue in the Nicaragua Committee. Even when church is not ideal. it’s worth investing in.
    P.S. My church is the one that Esther Emery refers to as “my radical social-justice-loving city church.”

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