The Rev. Beth Birkholz: Not the Same

I was at a hospital visit recently with a lovely person recovering from some pretty intense surgery. There was a friend there, and as happens sometimes while the person was getting treated and checked, we started talking.

I should preface this by saying that when people find out that I'm a pastor, they immediately start apologizing for not going to church. They MEAN to, they really do! They want to! It's just that their weekends are so busy. Their son/daughter/wife/husband/partner/dog doesn't like it. They had a bad experience when they were children. Religion scares them.

Whatever it is, I've heard it, and so I do try to say, usually, "It's okay, it's all good, I don't judge," etc. Because I don't judge stuff like that. It's hard sometimes for me to get up and go to church, and I work there. My weekends are busy too. Sometimes my children don't like church. And anyone who says that religion doesn't scare them has never worked at a church.

And still, when this friend the other day started telling me about her life and why she doesn't come to church....I sort of snapped.

It started when I said, "hopefully I'll see you soon." This was true, and I wasn't saying it to shame her. I enjoyed our conversation and I truly hope I will see her again sometime, though I know it sometimes comes across the other way.

She said, "okay, okay, but I do pray at home, by myself!"

Now here, I would normally have said, "That's great" or some such, but I don't know what got ahold of me. Instead, I said,  "NOT THE SAME."

"Youch!" said the friend in the hospital bed. "She's right!"

Because it's not. I talk to so many people who, like me, have so many reasons to not come. I'm not talking about people who are atheists, or agnostics, or honestly have decided that church is not for them. I'm talking about people like this lovely person, who would be able to find peace, and comfort, and a little bit of heaven, and some challenge thrown in, at church. I'm all for praying by yourself, at home, but IT IS NOT THE SAME, and never will be.

Here's one more example, and those of you who read my blog regularly will not be surprised to see that it has to do with yoga. I had been doing yoga at home, by podcast, for years. Five years, by my count, that I hadn't darkened the door of a yoga studio or gym, and that I had been doing some pretty hardcore yoga right there in my living room.

But early this year, I went to a class. It wasn't anything harder than I had been doing, but it was so much tougher I was sore for a week! With people around me and a teacher to guide me, I found greater strength in basic poses. I watched others who were more advanced to see what the next steps were. I was guided in my meditation, and was able to be still so much longer than I am by myself.

Why did I wait so long? I don't really know. All I know is that with a community, you feel more, you go deeper, you are surrounded by others on the same path. Jesus will listen to you either way, but there's so much joy in praying with others when you don't have the words some days. I GET that people are hypocrites, and do and say terrible things in the name of religion. Nobody gets that more than me! But I also get that joy that comes from simply going to church.

Borrowed from St. John's, Atlanta, an amazing place to experience the best of Church

Taken with permission from Beth's blog, Chickpastor.