I read a blog post recently critiquing the way many churches do communion. This author pushed for a wider view of what communion is–what we do in remembrance of Jesus. The author had decided to refrain from communion until the questions had been answered.
It seems very much in vogue for Christians to question the way the church does things. Does the church care enough at social justice? Does the church value women adequately? Is the church fitting in too much? Is the music appropriate, relevant, or too relevant?
This questioning is valid, and it’s important to think through the why and how of what we do. But sometimes I wonder if we can’t just stop questioning. Have we forgotten how to accept? Have we forgotten the value in being an average churchgoer–in just showing up with open hands and hearts Sunday after Sunday or reading the Bible day after day?
Not long ago, we lived thirty minutes away from church. Up until that point, I had always lived much closer to church. I know thirty minutes is not a lot, but with the busyness of being a first-year teacher, then the fatigue of pregnancy, and numerous other selfish and not-selfish reasons, it was easy not to go. It was easier to just listen to a sermon online.
I once heard someone say to consider church when you are buying a house. It seems almost strange, but living close to church means you don’t skip; it’s easy to get there. It also means you see the church faces on a daily basis walking their dogs, mowing their lawns, driving down the road. For now, we’ve chosen to live closer to church.
But it’s not just living close to church; it’s also the consistent, accepting, attendance. In All Joy and No Fun, the author shares one reason parenting has become so challenging: the loss of folkways. A folkway has to do with traditions that guide us. In the book, the example is that in earlier times, a father often raised his son to follow in his trade. There wasn’t a lot of worry about mobility or questions about decisions. How to parent, what to teach your child, what you’re preparing your child to do–these things were established. We now have very little that’s established.
There are great things about this big, flat world. It’s amazing that we can move far away and yet stay in touch with our famlies. It’s great to be able to find good churches and good preaching with the help of the Internet. But there’s something inexplicably beautiful about having your third grade Sunday School teacher–the one who prayed with you when you asked him to save you–serve you communion.
I was baptized as a twelve-year-old when I joined our church. A few weeks ago, my baby was baptized in the same place. It’s the place we stood to get married three years ago. The same pastor who married us baptized our son. Except for one, all of our bridesmaids and groomsmen stood with us at our wedding and then our son’s baptism. We stood where many families have stood–where I’ve watched families my whole life, families I’ve prayed for and babysat for and loved.
The woman who led our Sunday School music congratulated us on our son’s baptism afterward. She was the one whose songs first made me ask what it meant to be saved. My fifth grade Sunday School teacher who played such a crucial role in my faith gave me a hug. Our pastor and his wife came over to our house to celebrate. As we stood there, I saw faces of girls I’ve led in small groups and faces of professors whose words have changed me.
There are many complaints about church. I get it. It’s easy to complain and question and think about all the better ways things could be done from communion to singing to preaching. It’s easy to love the new books and new ideas–the ones that convince us we’ve been looking at it wrong all along, the ones that are shiny and fresh. But faith is the daily walking in the well-worn sandals–the stories Jesus told that we’ve heard over and over, the holding of that plastic cup of grape juice another week, the faces that are familiar even when we don’t know names. It’s hearing again “The body of our Lord broken for you; take and eat.” It’s the ordinary, prayed-over water on the head of a baby prayed for years before his parents knew each other or the tan lines from a long-worn wedding band.
Our church is far from perfect, but I don’t think we always need to be trying to improve. Sometimes it’s listening and learning and doing the expected–waking up on another average Sunday morning to put on average clothes and attend a service that may also seem average. In the average and everyday we find–over time–the beauty of roots and circles.