These days, there seems to be a real question in people’s minds about the worth of actually joining and participating in the life of a church. You hear things like “so many of the people are hypocrites” and “I do find on my own” and “nature is my church” and “all the church really cares about is its own survival.” And there is, perhaps, some truth in all of these thoughts.
Church members, like everyone else, are sinners. We never fully live up to our best intentions. Each of us does have our own walk with God. Our faith has to fit us — it’s not one size fits all. Nature can draw us towards God — though it is not God. All institutions, the church included, care about their own survival — sometimes disproportionately so.
Still, without a structure to preserve and teach it, much of our ancient tradition would have been lost or changed beyond recognition. Without others to hold us accountable, we are likely to pick and choose uncritically and self indulgently among he spiritual paths available to us today. We need ways to turn our lives around when we fall short. All of these things require some kind of structure. The church provides this, however imperfectly.
There is a story, a true story (that might have actually happened!), about and English priest who visited one of his non attending members one cold winter day. After saying hello, they sat for a while in silence before a charcoal fire, sipping their tea. After a while, the priest took the tongs and removed one coal from the fire, setting it down on the stone in front of the grate. They watched in silence as the lone coal dimmed and finally went out all together, while the fire behind the grate continued to burn.
They sat a while longer in silence.
Then his parishioner said, “I’ll see you in church Sunday, Father.”