It’s day 25…that means that we’re 1/4 of the way through this journey of “How To’s”…Hoooray!
I have a couple topics that I’ve been holding in my reserve bank to write about when I’m really feeling the inspiration and the commitment to them. This is one of them. Religion can be a touchy topic. But this post is not about dogma, theology, structure, or any of the sacred texts. This is simply about how to be a part of a church, any church/temple/mosque/whatever. There are good and bad things about all religions, good and bad histories everywhere. This isn’t about who is right or wrong it’s about where you feel you belong. If that is in no church at all, then that’s ok too.
I was raised in a pretty religious roman catholic family. We were always involved in church programs, service activities, and youth groups. But when I went to college I pretty much stopped going to church all together. I think this is a pretty normal occurrence for most kids that age. We are on our own, free, exploring new views, new ideas, and new people. We are also ridiculously freaking hung over on Sunday morning. But even though I wasn’t attending mass, didn’t mean I ever lost my faith or felt that religion wasn’t important. When I came home on breaks, I would go to church with my parents most times and was still pretty involved in a lot of programs they had.
However, as my pool of friends grew, and my belief system was challenged every day with new classes and new situations, I really struggled over some of the core beliefs in the catholic faith. I decided to look around and see what other options were out there and I now attend a Protestant United Church of Christ (UCC) church in Rocky Hill, CT along with Jay and AC. It’s the right fit for us, and I’ve been going there for about 7 years.
So what have I learned from a lifetime of being involved in organized religion? For the most part, they are all the same when it comes to what they want. They want people to come and worship with them, they want to tell their story of faith, and they want to be positive influences in the world. The message may be different, the methods may be different, but in the end it’s about spending some time together with some people who have the same beliefs as you. Listed below are a few ways that may help you be a part of that…
- Determine why you are there – This is sometimes the hardest part of being part of a church. There’s lots of good and bad reasons to be a part of a faith community. Some people have no other reason for going to church than they have always done it, so it is what they do. That is ok, and if it is something that they still feel they want to actively participate in, then they must be getting something out of it. Other people go to church because of their kids. They want them to have some kind of faith foundation. That is fine too, as long as you intend on raising them in that faith. If you don’t believe, then what’s the point really of having your kids there when you don’t even want to be there? Then there are those who go to church to feel some kind of connection. Some kind of action or feeling that lets them know they are part of something bigger, believe in something larger. There’s also the aspect of just simply being part of a community of people who will support and care for you. Whatever your reasons, be it any of these, all of these, or a million more, know what they are. Know why you are there and what you want to get and give by being a part of this church. Now here’s the hard part. If God doesn’t play a role in why you are there, it maybe better for you to join a book club. There are social aspects to faith communities of course, but if you aren’t there to foster your relationship with your higher power, even if that means to learn what it is that you actually do believe, then what is the point?
- Don’t hide it – Mainline churches in general are on a downward slope. Most of them have seen declining numbers and many have had to close their doors. There are lots of reasons for this, and lots of people who are much smarter than me continue to research it and try to reverse the trend. One of the reasons that I happen to very much agree with is that we feel some kind of social shame about being part of a church. We don’t want to talk about it, we don’t want to invite others to join us, we hardly even discuss it at all. Now, I agree there are times and places where it isn’t necessarily appropriate to be discussing religion, but when did we start apologizing for going to church? We need to embrace the fact that this is an important place for us. Tell people when you have church events you are attending, just as you would if you were going to a show or a picnic. Talk about why you go when people ask and invite them to join you if they would like to learn more or experience it for themselves. There is no need to push your beliefs on others, but we shouldn’t hide them either.
- Be present – If you have decided to become a part of the church, be there. I am not the person who will tell you that you have to be there every week, we don’t go every week either. But you do need to go more than twice a year. Be a part of the community. Get involved in an event or two. Go to special programs or simply just sit in the seat during the worship and gather what you need from it.
- Have conversations – Not all who attend a church are unwavering in their faith. Church is an opportunity to have those conversations, a chance to ask questions and to listen. Talking with people and hearing their stories, listening to sermons, attending some bible studies to help you learn are all ways to grow. Whatever you learn from those discussions can help you determine if you are in the best place for you or if you should start having conversations in other places of worship. Just because you started in one religion doesn’t mean you can’t decide to transition to another that makes more sense for you. Wherever you feel moved to be is the right place. Trust your feelings, follow your heart and share that with others.
- Be amazed – Faith to me is about having a connection to God. When I go to church, it is one place that I feel that presence there with me. Through the words that are said, through the music, through the simple act of being gathered together for service. I feel it when we perform service activities for people who need help, or when AC plays with the other kids and then tells us about what he learned in church school. It is a feeling of amazement and awe. No matter where you go to church, allow yourself to be amazed. Open your mind and your heart and make a little room for God to come in. Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed with that feeling it takes my breath away. Those are the moments that keep bringing me back.