My dream Sunday morning consists of sleeping a few hours past my weekday alarm of 6am, rolling out of bed to put the kettle on the stove for my coffee, opening my front door to retrieve my Washington Post, making my coffee while looking up pancake recipes, and then making whatever recipe looks best with what ingredients I have at home. It’s slow, unrushed, and centering.
It doesn’t include church. I love mornings in general, and when I lived in Seattle, I attended church at 4:00pm. It was glorious. 11:15am in DC comes a lot sooner than I usually expect it (my snooze alarm and I are getting so serious I should just put a ring on it). Needless to say, my motivation for church has been lacking so much that for Lent I opted to give up pancakes and add church back into my life.
Corporate or Sunday worship has never fulfilled me spiritually. In my adult life I can fit the times I felt it on one hand. I know, this isn’t something I should be saying. I’ve worked in most levels of my denomination, and I have a Master of Divinity degree, on route to become a deaconess… but it’s my truth (or reality to placate my Ph.D. friends). I go to church to see my friends; church has always been communal for me with some light formation.
I like a more grassroots, unpolished church where I’m asked to read scripture out loud with no practice of the Hebrew names of towns and/or people or pulled to help with offering. Yet, I want an elder presiding over communion and someone who is theologically articulate giving the sermon. It’s a weird blend for sure.
This disconnect grew more after I got my master’s and even more so when I moved from Seattle to DC, but I found a community at a church and joined it. I was really good about Sunday attendance for months, then this summer I took a break and it lasted until Lent. I probably went to my congregation’s worship twice in this time, but I picked up attending chapel a few times a month or more at work.
I’m not the model church-goer, yet today I admitted in a public space that I go to church and work for it. Perhaps before I get to my radical (for me) moment of evangelism, I should give a back story.
Last year, I decided the time was now for getting back in shape and discovered a studio that offered spin and yoga classes. I was sold. Since May I have been going for 5-7 classes a week. I do spin 4 times a week, yoga 2-3 times. I have a very embodied theology that is rooted in my personal piety. I believe in nourishment and healthy mind and body, so that, in turn, our bodies and spirits can sustain us for the long work of creating a just world. The fact of the matter is that I leave spin class feeling emboldened, empowered, one with my body, and ready to take on the world. I do not leave church feeling that way.
Back to today, I had just left my spin class and was starting to layer back up for the commute home when someone was talking about the class.
“It’s like church, but way less boring and fun.” (Okay, so I have texted the same words to the chagrin of my clergy friends.) This time it stung; it hit an unknowingly tender spot hard.
That’s when things got weird on my end. I turned around and said, “You haven’t found the right church then.” I felt so awkward that I felt the need to go on and say in the most uncool way possible, “I worked for a church.” I quickly turned around.
Do I think spin class is like church? Yes. My favorite instructor, Shafer, builds us up so that we leave the space ready to change the world. He has all these great quotes and sayings that I weave my own theological lens or biblical references into (I am that nerdy). I am pushed to a breaking point; all the energy I have bottled up comes out in the form of sweat, tears, and sometimes both.
There is also a communal element to my spin classes. We are encouraged to introduce ourselves to our neighbors. We are asked to turn to each other in class to say, “You’ve got this”, “Your presence is powerful”, or just give a simple high five. We ride to the beat of the song, on the same lead foot. We are together and synchronized. My favorite instructor has taken the time to know me and calls me out by name. In a room full of strangers, I feel more seen in that space than I do in most places.
Because I religiously attend spin classes, I am better equipped to live into my embodied spirit and live into my vocation. I truly wish I was able to say that about the average worship service.
I am left with the question, if I, a life long church-goer who is deeply committed to my faith journey, have issues with church on Sunday not being fulfilling, what are we to do with those who left the church when their parents stopped forcing them to go or who never went? These are the type of people who don’t add church back as part of a Lenten practice.
Do I have the answers? Not really. (I also tuned out during my worship class in seminary.) I have a fairly comprehensive list of things I don’t like in worship, but I’m not the target audience. I’m just left with the uncomfortable feeling that church worship services are boring and not worth the time to go to (a sentiment I sometimes share), while I am not practicing what I preach, aka, being fully integrated into a faith community.