Last week, I was talking to Pastor Diane about the declining numbers in church membership (not just as something affecting St Peter’s, but as an overall trend).
She commented that there are so many people who subscribe to the, “spiritual but not religious” category. And we got into a discussion – why do people need to go to church anyway? What is it that happens there that can’t be done alone?
I’m sure there are a bunch of different ways to answer this question. I’ve heard an argument before that you have to go to church to receive communion – it’s something only a priest can do. I don’t agree with this. I believe strongly in the priesthood of all believers, and think Eucharist happens all the time — whenever we break bread around a table, whether there are two people or dozens.
Some would say that the ritual of church is needed to connect us to the ones who have gone before. While I recognise the impact this has on me, and the ways it connects me to my ancestors, I also don’t think church is the only place you can do this.
In the end, I think church is important because of the community of it. Where else, in life, is it possible to have so many people gathered together in a singular experience?
I thought, then, about protests – and the ways that civic engagement of that kind connects us with one another. I thought about how everyone is going through the same physical motions – whether that is marching with one another, or chanting together, or wearing the same color.
At church, there are some parts of the liturgy which encourage this. When we recite together – say, the words of the Nicene Creed, or the confession of sin – our breath becomes uniform, and we are cohesive.
When we sing together, we are also united. Breath comes at the end of musical phrases, as a punctuation. This isn’t about the beauty of your voice, the ability to harmonise or even be in the right key. It is about, instead, a willingness to participate – a willingness to contribute individually to a greater collective.
In church, our very breath connects us, spiritually, to one another. We are able to be present with one another, to feel a unity, that we don’t usually experience. We are given the opportunity to journey together, and break through the isolation which can otherwise overwhelm.
Church is where we can truly breathe.