I’d always loved church. I loved the fellowship. I loved supporting my community through our services and other activities. And I enjoyed feeling like I could be of service to the congregation by praying.
But then a different feeling hit me. Inconvenience. I had a new baby at home, and I was suddenly feeling quite burdened by the thought of going to church.
The deeper question I was struggling with came back to what Church really is. As a Christian Scientist, I was familiar with a spiritual definition of Church in the Glossary of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, which begins, “The structure of Truth and Love; …” (p. 583). I felt very confident that the word structure was not referencing the beams, walls, and floor of a church. Truth and Love refer to Spirit, God, so I could see how this divine structure must be spiritual—and must be found everywhere, since God is everywhere. Which meant I could live Church in a spiritual sense wherever I was, right? Yes, I could find Church in a building on Sunday morning, but I also caught glimpses of the presence of Church in the mountains during a hike, in the peace of family snuggles with our new infant, and even in a checkout line at the grocery store. Why should I feel tied to what felt, frankly, like an inconvenient ritual?
Why should I feel tied to what felt, frankly, like an inconvenient ritual of attending church?
In my prayers, I’ve grown accustomed to putting it all out there. I just ask God whatever I’m wondering about. The key for me, though, is to make sure I’m actually listening for the answer. So as I was praying about this question of whether I should keep going to church, I wanted to be sure I was honestly listening—not just pouring out my heart and then doing whatever I wanted.
Well, I got an answer, and the answer was surprising. I essentially asked God why going to church was any better than “living Church” wherever I ended up being. What came in response wasn’t a chart comparing the benefits of one to the other. The answer was an invitation! The answers to my prayers don’t always come as specific words, but this time I heard, “Why not come and see what I am doing? Why not come see what happens as you are all called together?”
Now, I love to accept invitations. Whether it’s a game night, a hiking trip, or even something I wouldn’t normally do, I try to make a habit of accepting invitations, because it often feels like a good way to honor and care for the person inviting me. Having my prayer answered with an invitation from God to “come and see” what was really going on at church turned all my questioning on its head! God didn’t say that it wasn’t valid to live Church on the trails or in the quiet at home. He just invited me to see what He is doing—what Love is doing!—for me and for others when we gather to hear Him.
Having my prayer answered with an invitation from God to “come and see” what was really going on at church turned all my questioning on its head!
“Come and see” is so much more welcoming than “do this or else.” It also totally disregards the convenience of something; it simply gives you the opportunity to value the one giving the invitation and to go see and enjoy a new thing.
So when I got that message, I couldn’t help but laugh and say, “Well, when You put it like that, sure! I’ll come!” The following Sunday I was back at church, and ever since that week of prayer, I have loved to accept God’s invitation to simply come and see. In the years that have followed, we’ve moved across the country and attended many different branch Churches of Christ, Scientist. Sure, sometimes I’m unable to be at church. But now that I consider my involvement with church as a response to an invitation rather than to a “check box” requirement, I just love to go and see what God is doing, how Love is moving hearts and minds—and to be a participant in that healing movement.
So why do I (still) love church? Because church offers an open invitation to all of us to see what God is doing and how good He is. Sure, we can see that divine activity everywhere. But it’s a special joy to gather so intentionally in church, and to witness that divine activity together.