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Why I Still Go to Church

There is no denying it; I still go to church every week. There is almost no explaining it, either. Yet, I believe it is only fair to explain to those who ask and wonder, why exactly it is I still go to church. I suppose it is easier to begin by what is not at the root of my continued church going. I am no longer searching for spiritual answers. I do not believe in a traditional god. I am not going to start back believing. There is no chance I am going to suddenly see the light. I am not looking to settle the question of if there is a god. That question is well settled.

I also do not go because I enjoy the pageantry and ceremony. I don’t pray, sing, meditate, take communion, or any other religious activity. I only enjoy the sermon insomuch as it is not bible-based. I am embarrassed by the superstitious aspects of church meetings. I do not give money to churches. I do not believe they are great conduits for benevolence, with very few exceptions. I don’t actually care about lushly carpeted, air-conditioned, multi-million dollar campuses. Nor do I care about professional orators.

Before I tell you what I do enjoy, let me tell you where I go to church. Almost every Sunday, I attend the local Universalist Unitarian church (UU). This is a church that looks a lot like a traditional church from a distance. It is replete with church building, a person with title of Reverend, membership requirements, and a weekly contribution. On Easter, they even have a type of communion. Okay, it is a flower communion. There is no cannibalistic symbolism, but it is still communion by name.

It has all the outward trappings of church without any of the substance. The songs are devoid of religious content. There is no talk of grace for wretched worms, or old rugged crosses. The prayers are without specific direction to an all knowing, all loving god for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The sermons are life lessons rather than religious instruction, and end without hint of an alter call. The collection is not god’s holy tax to do his holy work. It is to support the organization and help it fulfill its fiscal responsibilities. UU in in the shape of religion for those of us who are familiar with religion, but without the essence of religion for those of us who have grown beyond it.

I have also, once, visited a Quaker meeting, sometime known as Friends. As near as I can tell, there is no quaking going on. Similar to UU, the Quakers are a non-creedal body. They do not have a prescription for salvation or specific religious practices. Much like UU, they avoid the usual trappings of religion. Unlike UU, they do not replace those trappings with anything. Where UU will have a service that provides a typical order of worship without the content of worship, the Quakers provide nothing. The “worship hour is an hour of silence, broken only by the occasional moved by the spirit with something to share. Otherwise, there is just silence.

After that, they offer a non-religious prayer, and break for a while in fellowship and snacks. After a few minutes of that, they reassemble for a second hour of discussion about whatever topic is on the agenda for the day. Quaker involvement in social justice. It was quite lively. It seems to be another good church option for the non-religious. You can always skip the first hour of silence if meditation is not your think. It is certainly not mine, but I did find some value in quietness.

Today at UU, the church was dealing with the death of a prominent member. The husband of the minister died. It was not unexpected, but still tragic. In all of my experience with church, I have found that there is nothing like death to bring out faith language in that environment. I admit to a morbid curiosity about how this non-religious church handled the reality of the death of a beloved member. There was nothing of the sermon to indicate it was a sermon from a preacher of a church. It was completely secular, authentic, and the most beautiful and meaningful service of its kind that I have experienced.

There was also a special bridging ceremony for a graduate who is transitioning from youth to adulthood. It was a beautiful ceremony that reminded me that one need not be religious to appreciate life’s many transitions, and the ceremonies that accompany them.

I continue to go to church because religion continues to be a reality for a significant part of the population. I cannot just write off the majority of humans because they insist on having faith in things that I do not. It would be wrong of me to simply divorce myself from humanity in the same way that so many of the faithful would divorce themselves from me for my faithlessness.

I once asked Bishop John Shelby Spong what people of my generation should do with the church. He acknowledge the fact that so many of us have simply moved on and left church people to their own devices. He encouraged me to stay and try to find a way to remain involved and be a thorn in the side of the traditional religionists. I have attempted to do just that, but not just for the sake of being a thorn in the side. I want to maintain a dialogue with people who are different from me. Once dialogue ends, war begins.

I feel compelled to find a way to engage with the faithful. I stubbornly believe that we can find common ground when we give expression to the yearnings of our common humanity. I not only go to church, but I am involved with an organization called Faith in Action. It is an interfaith organization that is devoted to positive, political change in the Birmingham community. The organization is heavily focused on faith. My focus is on action. We work together well by focussing on our common humanity. When religion is set aside, preachers and non-theists can stand shoulder to shoulder to affect change.

That is why I continue to go to church. Some weeks, it is harder than others, but I persist. Hopefully, all of my readers will continue to engage in the effort of living out the reality of a common humanity.

David Johnson

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