Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Growing Community Together

Do people ask you why you bother going to church? With so many things we could be doing, why set aside time for church attendance? Perhaps you've asked this of yourself, especially on mornings you'd rather stay in bed (or your children would).

This question is really about the purpose of church. For me, being part of a religious community like Saltwater challenges me to focus on why I am here and what I am called to do in the world. Connecting with other Unitarian Universalists reminds me we are all connected with one another and all of life. Talking with our children helps me remember that each of us is a unique gift of creation. Singing together and hearing inspirational words helps me sustain hope. Being with others who care deeply about life helps me find hope despite more suffering in the world than I can address on my own.

For our children and youth, coming to church regularly communicates that faith and religion are central to our lives, not something extra that is tacked now and then. It allows them to connect with the community, and to feel more comfortable at church. It teaches that attending church is a spiritual practice, something we do over and over again, as a way of helping ourselves feel connected to something larger than ourselves.

What about mornings when it doesn't seem worth the effort? Perhaps we were up late the night before, or have too much to do before Monday, or are feeling more worn out than usual. Why come to church when we aren't that excited about the day's sermon topic or the focus of the religious education class? Because, on any given Sunday, there is someone here who needs a smile, a hug, or a word of encouragement. Someone who needs to see that others are working for justice in our world, or to hear voices raised in song, or to talk about their search for truth. Someone who needs to be reminded that we are part of something larger than ourselves. We need one another, as community. And we cannot build that community by attending only when it is convenient.

Of course there are times when we have to miss church. Regular attendance does not have to mean perfect attendance. What it does mean is, on most Sundays, you come to church. It's your routine, it's what you do religiously, it's a spiritual practice. With the emphasis on practice—no one is expecting perfection.

Starting this month, we will acknowledge commitment to regular attendance. Each Sunday children and youth will record their presence on our "growing community" wall. Every three Sundays, each will receive a temporary tattoo representing an aspect of our faith community. I hope this will be a fun way to visibly reinforce some of the religious values we share, while reminding us of the importance of showing up.

I encourage you and your family to commit to regular attendance. For most of us, that will mean three or four Sundays a month. For some, due to family configurations, work commitments, or other factors, this may be once or twice a month. Whatever your situation, consistently showing up will benefit you, your children, and our community.