Christians are supposed to go to church, especially if the Christian in question is a priest. I haven’t been to church in a month of Sundays. I didn’t plan this, it just kind of happened.
I was on the front end of a three-month sabbatical from my parish. The first Sunday away, I decided to experience worship in one of the most popular churches on the planet – St. Mattress-by-the-Springs. I slept late. When I got up, I read the Sunday morning paper with several cups of freshly brewed coffee as company and even did the crossword puzzle.
I watched Meet the Press and Super Soul Sunday, which are other, popular places of Sunday worship. Then I treated myself to a late Sunday brunch. I was so exhausted by all of this that I took a long nap in the afternoon. If I had been at the beach, all of this would have been considered normal behavior. This was only one Sunday away, surely that was OK, wasn’t it?
The next Sunday, I resolved to go to church, preferably one in which I wasn’t known and one that I wanted to experience. I chose a nearby parish and got ready to go. Except that I didn’t. I felt overcome by the same kind of fear that all newcomers experience. What if they didn’t like me? What if I didn’t know what to do and did the wrong thing?
Because I wanted to go an African-American church and I am Caucasian, I also worried about standing out. Strange, I didn’t feel that way when African-Americans worship in my predominately white church. Stranger still that I had never let that truly permeate my consciousness before. Strange and shameful. I was beginning to realize that Jesus was teaching me some new things on this month without Sundays.
I didn’t go to church the next two Sundays either. I found myself engaging with people for whom Sunday is a work day. My cable and AC went out on Sundays and the only time available for repairs was during worship. You can understand the need for AC during the misery we call summer here in Augusta. You may even understand the necessity of having cable to watch the season premier of Game of Thrones. In each instance, I needed to be home for the repairs.
More unexpected learnings. People don’t schedule around worship anymore. Christians may rail against the intrusion of soccer practice on Sunday mornings, but what about things that aren’t so optional? If you’re the one who works on the Sabbath, does that mean you’re not a Christian or not even spiritual?
When you enjoy a Sunday brunch, do you look upon the servers who couldn’t attend church, even if they wanted, because they are working for you?
I’ve come away from this month without Sundays with a new insight. I understand the allure of St. Mattress-by-the Springs, but it doesn’t work for me. The Sabbath sets my week and without it, one day is hardly indistinguishable from another.
Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy says God in the Ten Commandments. And in remembering that, I am remembering that I too am meant to be holy, made in God’s image. At a bare minimum, I need a day to reflect on that gift and give thanks to the Giver.
I rediscovered that worship is what grounds me. That I need the faith community that surrounds and upholds me, loves me and challenges me. It’s the community that enables me to go out and do the same for others in the name of Jesus. I need the sacraments on a regular basis; to be fed the body of Christ, the bread of heaven. It’s spiritual food for my soul.
And I rediscovered just how scary it can be to go to church. To walk into a new place, especially by yourself, is an act of courage not to be taken lightly. I will continue to work on the hospitality of welcome, not just in church, but in all the sacred encounters of life.
I’m still on my sabbatical but I will be in church this Sunday. I’ll be sitting in a pew with my family – something that is as rare for me as the upcoming solar eclipse.
The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Taylor is pastor of Church of the Holy Comforter.