Have you heard the song “Take me to Church” by the musician Hozier? If you haven’t, you may not have turned on the radio since 2014. It seems like that song is everywhere. In fact, it was the most internationally streamed song in 2014. From the grocery store to walking around in Target, that song follows me everywhere.
As a pastor, you’d think I would like a song with that as the title, and I will admit it is really catchy; but as anyone who has really listened can tell you, the song isn’t about church as an institution but more about the idea of worship. The song at it’s core is about infatuation and the way a difficult love can make you experience the feelings that some associate with religion: complete dedication, and for some, complete disappointment and shame. This blog is not a commentary on that song, although if you look that up you will find all kinds of meanings attributed to it. I want to look instead at the notion of going to church. Why do we take ourselves to church?
I recently read that the average church-going American attends church 1.5 Sundays a month. I love statistics, and although I know it is gained through averaging months that have five weeks and months that have four weeks, I like to think that halfway through a service people get up and leave in order to fulfill that 0.5 of a Sunday.
1.5 Sundays doesn’t seem like a lot, but looking around my congregation I think it is a fair assessment. For lots of reasons people who have a deep faith miss church. I am lucky if I see folks one Sunday a month. I live in the Western portion of the United States and the idea that Sunday is a sacred church day no longer applies. Many sports, performances, and work commitments fall on Sunday mornings, so for better or for worse, it is difficult to get to church.
I go to church every week. I know it’s cheating since I am the pastor. But I physically go to church each week, and for me being with the community and experiencing the family-like atmosphere is what I count as ‘going to church.’ The tough part is that most Sundays I am the one bringing the message to share, so I don’t have the same experience of ‘going to church.’
I have several African American friends who taught me during my seminary days the term ‘go to church.’ If a professor or someone spoke a Word that resonated with folks, they would say “we have been to church.” That saying has stuck with me and has me wondering: how often do I go to church? I mean really go to church?
This week I had the pleasure of being the keynote speaker at a conference of female clergy. It was a wonderful gathering of some amazingly inspiring people. I loved being able to speak to such a distinguished group of people. I took lots of time thinking through what I would say and reading through the scripture theme for the week: the story of the woman who encountered Jesus at the well. I was blessed to have people encourage me and say that what I shared inspired them. I was pleased. The worship and Gospel bands were amazing. I felt like God had used me and I had experienced church. But it wasn’t until the final day – the day that I did not preach – that I felt “I have been to church.”
I was not scheduled to speak on the final day – the organizer brought in another speaker to share. I wanted to show my support of the gathering and share in fellowship, so I stayed for the final worship. Little did I know I was about to ‘Go to church.’ Dr. Teresa L. Fay Brown preached. I had heard of her as a distinguished professor, but I wasn’t prepared for what the Holy Spirit did through her. She began to preach in a way that I can only describe as part prophetic word, part sermon and part spoken word. The cadence of her speaking drew me in and I hung on each word, but more than that, she woke something up in me. The conviction that as a pastor I don’t go to church enough. I don’t allow myself to hear enough of what I am asking people in my congregation to hear each week, and my soul is the worse for it. As she weaved together her beautiful sermon, deep inside of me my spirit moved, and I realized something needs fixing. I need to ‘go to church’ more! I need to be open to a fresh Word. My challenge for myself and for you this week is to ‘go to church.’ Find a way to hear something that will open you up to what God is speaking.
*Side note: readers as soon as Dr. Brown’s message is available to be viewed online, I will make sure to post the link.