Friday, June 5, 2020

Is Church for You?

A painting of my childhood church, St. Matthew's, near Spring Glen. Painted by the late Ginny Alexander.

Who would have dreamed we’d ever be denied access to church? And once we get back to “normal,” I’m sure it will be a "new normal." More distance, less hugging. More scooting, less lingering. But have we taken church for granted?

The psalmist writes “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord” (Psalm 84:1 NIV). Two months after sheltering in place, I yearn with the psalmist.

Precious memories of church stretch across the years. I miss the sacredness of the sanctuary. I miss “dressing up” on Sunday mornings. Many of my memories come with clothes.

As a child, we dressed differently on Sundays. Taffeta dresses and Sunday shoes. Easter bonnets and gloves. My father and brothers wore starched white shirts, suits and ties to church. The only other time they wore them was for funerals. Which, of course, were usually held in a church. Church was where you dressed up to show reverent respect for the holiness of God.

As a teenager I knelt beside a wooden pew on a wooden floor, worried about snagging my newly acquired nylons. It was a holy moment. We always knelt, maybe four times a year, when we had communion. Church was where we confessed our sins and promised to do better.

I also "dressed up" for Halloween. We met in the church basement, before a panel of judges, and waited breathlessly behind a rubber mask to see who would be the last one guessed. Our family disguised ourselves behind Li'l Abner masks—the "Injun," Mammy, Pappy, Li'l Abner and, of course, pretty perky Daisy Mae. Church provided our social life.

In my teens, I stood before the congregation in a blue dress with rhinestone-dotted black velvet across the top of the bodice to profess faith in Christ, although at the time, I didn’t really understand salvation. (Can you find me in the photo?) We “confirmed” our faith, and I received a Bible of my own, which I read pretty regularly. Church informed my faith.

I wore Sunday dresses when “drafted” to play the piano for Sunday school. I had had only a year or two of lessons. My parents said, “If you don’t practice, we don’t pay.” So playing for Sunday school was a big deal and made me nervous. But I practiced the songs and my forgiving audience followed my lead.

In ninth grade, I played “Holy, Holy, Holy” on my clarinet for a baccalaureate service held in a church. I don’t remember what I wore that night, but to me, that was another holy moment, a special privilege. Church offered a place to explore using my gifts and talents for God.

One summer day I borrowed my friend Ginny’s wedding dress to get married in our little country church. I stood before a holy God, vowing to love, honor and obey my husband. It was a hot but holy moment. Church was where God blessed life events such as marriage, baptisms and dedications. (There’s our family in the clothes we wore for Terry’s baptism.)

As a young mother I wore a blue woolen sheath dress I had sewed myself as I walked to the front of a sanctuary to commit my life to Christian service. I didn’t know if that meant inviting a neighbor for coffee or going to Africa, although I must admit, I worried a bit about the latter. Church challenged us.

Photos remind me of maternity dresses I wore to church, many that I made myself. Throughout my life I “dressed up” for church. I cannot even imagine going to church in jeans on a Sunday morning. Not that there’s anything wrong with jeans. It’s just not me on a Sunday morning.

But lately, I’ve watched church in jeans, limited to worship by the screen of an I-Pad. And that too has been good. But I miss the fellowship. The “hi’s” and “good to see you’s.” I miss the singing and the prayers. The holy atmosphere of a sanctuary.

One good thing is that the church has been pushed out into the world. More people are probably tuning in via Facebook and YouTube than ever darkened the doors of churches.

Families now worship together, separated from others. Parents, I hope, realize they carry the prime responsibility of teaching their children about God. Perhaps they’ve never before prayed with their children. Now’s the time.

However, “Let us consider . . . not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV).

So I ask, will we have a greater appreciation for church now that we’ve been denied access? Will you go to church once your church reopens and you feel safe to attend? I hope so.

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