This time around our response comes from Ashley Ruby. Ashley is a talented organist/pianist who has served at St. Mark’s, St. James’ United Church and the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist here is St. John’s. Her and her husband Jamie have been married a couple of years now and the live in Goulds.
When Reverend Rob asked me to write a response to his “Why We Need Church” blog, I honestly didn’t think I’d ever get it done. Thinking and chatting and writing about religion and church and theology are things I truly love to do, but there seems to be little time to do it these days. There’s little time to do many of the things you love to do when there are so many things that need to be done. Although spending time with God is, to me, something that needs to be to done, we know that God is everywhere and in everything, and when my schedule forces me to choose between taking a day to breathe and enjoy my family over waking up and dragging myself to church, I will undoubtedly choose to honor the God I see in the faces of my loved ones, the God I experience when I’m relaxing with a book and the rain is falling outside, and the God of hot coffee, peacefulness, and contentedness.
For me, this is a kind of worship, not unlike the choreographed liturgical dance that takes place within the church walls.
There is a need for both types of worship. But there is also a need for balance, and there is certainly a need to remind church-goers that there is no obligation to attend. There is nothing to feel guilt or shame over when you really need to just stay home in bed. You’re aren’t going to burst into flames because you only go on Christmas and Easter either, something I hear over and over again from the twice-a-year-is-all-I-can-stomach crowd. Guilt and shame are things I, personally, have felt on a regular basis when I have to miss church, for work or an event or even just my own mental health. When I was on the path to ordination and attending Queen’s College full-time, I went to church seven days a week, most days more than once. I would be expected to attend daily offices every single day while simultaneously juggling my studies, my family, working two part-time jobs, my church commitments outside of Queen’s, and all the while maintaining a pleasant demeanour.
I was not pleasant.
I very quickly lost sight of all the things I found beautiful about church worship. I didn’t even enjoy singing anymore. I hated rolling the same prayers around in my mouth day after day; each time I said them they became more and more meaningless to me. Obligation to worship as I was told killed the joy the freedom to worship as I choose had brought me once before. I barely saw my husband because I was spending so much time at church doing church things that church people were expecting, telling, insisting, even, that I do. Meanwhile, the man I stood in God’s house with and promised my life to got barely any of my time and attention, and I don’t know if the God people told me to be quiet and pray to was very happy with me for that. Luckily, when I parted ways with Queen’s, after taking a couple weeks off from church altogether, I began to miss it again, and returned to my Sunday routine albeit with many commitments pared away. However, I’ve since been known to just as often stay home and make some absolutely fabulous waffles on a scattered Sunday morning, just because I can. Freedom to choose is important to me, and my husband and I are both happier people this way.
For the average church-goer, the Sunday morning breakfast-church-dinner-nap routine is tried and true. There’s not a thing wrong with it, and it is that very routine that brought me to the church as an infant and kept me there as an adult. It offers routine to families with young children who need to be taught to set time apart for God. It allows like-minded Christians come together and spend valuable time as a community. There is an energy present in a sanctuary full of people reciting such ancient words, words that mean so much to each and every heart there. But perhaps the main reason this sort of worship is necessary to Christians is that it sets apart time where thoughts are focused on the divine in a variety of media which references our beliefs directly. While appreciating the beauty of creation on a long walk through the woods, or spending an afternoon in the garden with your grandmother truly are beautiful ways to worship God and honor all He’s made, we often miss Him there. We don’t hear Him walking in the garden. The reality of His unfaltering presence doesn’t faze us. We don’t notice Him there in all we do. Worship in a church setting is valuable to the Christian as it draws attention directly to nebulous of our faith with music, symbols, words, ritual, and the human connection with other believers. This is one way in which church, as a place of worship, will always be needed.
On another level, there should be a real desire in the heart of every true Christian for church to become obsolete as quickly as possible. Before you write an angry editorial to Anglican Life about the crazy chick at St. Mark’s, hear me out. What I mean is that church-goers should be consistently working to eradicate all the social issues in the world that churches do so much to relieve. One of the key goals of the church is to help the helpless, and we should be striving, as every good charity should, to create a world in which our help is just no longer needed because there is no one left in want of help. Church, as a charitable organization, is needed right now, but we hope it isn’t needed for long (so does Jesus FYI).
But don’t worry. So long as there are Christians there will be church. If all the hungry mouths in the world are fed, all the marginalized of our society are no longer marginalized, and all our buildings fall down around our ears, there will still be church. When you welcome a friend into your house and treat her like a queen, your house is now church. You are serving your friend as Christ served, you are honoring the love you have for her as Christ loved us too. Loving your neighbour is spreading the Good News, it’s telling a message, and that message is to love. When you hold a loved one’s hand as they lie in palliative care, that hospital room suddenly becomes church too, and you are thanking God for the life they had and the time you had with them and trying to make their passage from life to death calm and easy. When you’re at a dance with your wife, and you’re swaying to the music in a crowd of dancing couples, you’re in church. You’re moving the fearfully, wonderfully made body God gave to you to house your soul, you’re feeling joy and love and happiness, and that is worship and that room is alive like a sanctuary on Easter morning and how beautiful is that?!
A little ditty comes to mind. It was one of the first songs I ever sang as a little girl in junior choir and I honestly never really understood the message until now. Here’s how it goes:
I am the church!
You are the church! We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus,
All around the world,
Yes, we’re the church together!
The church is not a building,
The church is not a steeple,
The church is not a resting place,
The church is the people.
The church is the people! The church is a love of Christ, a belief in the gospel, a motivation to enact good in the world so as to spread the Word of God, of His power and of His unfailing love, through our own human actions.
And the world needs it. The world needs love. The world needs church. As long as there are Christians, there will be church. As long as there is love, there will be church. There just will.
Let’s stop trying so hard, okay?