Bishop WolfeThe Day of Pentecost
The Rt. Rev. Dean E. Wolfe, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas

Why Should We Go To Church?

Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle the fire that is in us.
Take our lips and speak through them.
Take our hearts and see through them.
Take our souls and set them on fire. Amen.

“I still have many things to say to you but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

During this past year, I’ve invited the clergy of the diocese to address broader questions in preaching. In our desire to address the lessons appointed by the lectionary, preachers in the liturgical tradition often fail to take on some of the broader, more fundamental questions. When I met with the youth of the diocese at our Miqra program, a three day reading of the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation, our youth asked some of the best (and most difficult) questions I had faced in a while. I also became aware that many people, especially young people, no longer expect clergy to address difficult questions. So, this morning I’d like to try to answer one of these “broader” questions…
Why should we go to Church?
Why should we be part of a Christian community?

Now, you might argue this is just too easy of a question… with such obvious answers. “We should go to Church to hear the Word of God and to receive the blessed Sacraments. Period.” But, if it were all that obvious, these pews would be filled to overflowing and there would still be people waiting outside to find a seat!

The value of church membership, participation, and attendance isn’t clear to everyone and, on the Day of Pentecost, a day when we celebrate the birthday of the Christian Church…..on a day when we ask people to Confirm the holy promises which were made for them at their baptisms…on a day when we insist Confirmands proclaim, under their own steam and in their own voices, their abiding belief in God through Christ…it seems like an entirely appropriate question.

Why should we go to Church?

Of course, we could take up the bigger question,
“Why should we believe in God?” but fewer people actually quibble about whether or not there’s a God. Fewer people doubt there was some Unmoved Mover at the beginning of all reality who brought everything into being and even now is a Presence round about us. Nine in ten Americans surveyed believe there is a God and 68% of Americans believe Jesus is God or the Son of God . So, the vast majority of our friends and neighbors believe there is some God in some form.
Its religious institutions (and their leaders) in which they no longer have faith!

SBNR… SBNR; the snappy acronym which categorizes a growing group of people who claim they are “Spiritual… But Not Religious.”
The concept invites some interesting questions… Like,
• Can one be authentically Spiritual without that spirituality eventually drawing one into a community of fellow believers? Can you be “spiritual” without eventually becoming “religious” in some form?
• Can genuine spirituality leave a believer feeling warm and toasty; immersed in the waters of an ambiguous feeling, but disassociated from any of the responsibilities of authentic belief?

Isn’t it a bit like saying, “I want to be employed… but I don’t want to be an employee?”
Or, “I want to be in love… but I’d rather remain uncommitted?”
Or, “I want to be in the choir…. but I’d prefer not to sing?”

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

Rabbi David Wolpe notes, “All of us can understand institutional disenchantment. Institutions can be slow, plodding, (and) dictatorial; they can both enable and shield wrongdoers. They frustrate our desires by asking us to submit to the will of others. But institutions are also the only mechanism human beings know… to perpetuate ideologies and actions.

If books were enough, why have universities? If guns (were) enough, why have a military? If self-governance enough, let’s get rid of Washington. The point is that if you want to do something lasting in this world, you must recall the wise words of French Catholic writer Charles Péguy:

“Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics.”
If you’ve got a vision… you’ve got to get a blueprint.
Want a movement to last more than a decade?
Build an institution!

Spirituality is an emotion. Religion is an obligation.
Spirituality soothes. Religion mobilizes.
Spirituality is satisfied with itself.
Religion is dissatisfied with the world (and then seeks to transform it) It is religion, not spirituality, which create aid organizations.

The largest U.S.-based international relief and development organization isn’t Save the Children or Care: it’s World Vision, a Seattle-based, faith-based, Christian group. ”
So, why should we go to church?
Why should we belong to a Christian community?

1. Well, we could begin with the Bible. The Fourth of the Ten Commandment which says,
“Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.” It’s a reminder from God of the restorative powers of the Sabbath. “Keeping the Sabbath” is a way for the soul to rest and regenerate; its how humanity restores its connection with the Source of All that Was and Is and Ever Will Be. Going to Church helps us to keep and mark Sundays as a “holy day”… the root words for the word, “holiday.”

2. We should go to church because it connects us with everyone else who’s struggling to know Christ and to make Christ known…just as we are.

As it turns out, remaining faithful and good and generous and kind is much more arduous than it appears! Such faithfulness requires great vigor and a good deal of support from one’s fellow sojourners.

Psychologists study a phenomenon called “moral elevation;” (which is) an emotional state that leads people to act virtuously when they’re exposed to the virtue of others. In experiments, participants who were brought face to face with other’s gratitude or generous behavior were more likely to grow to display those virtues themselves. ”

So, yes, as it turns out, watching clips of Oprah Winfrey saying positive and reaffirming things (and watching her share a portion of her wealth with others) actually does have a beneficial effect!

So does watching your fellow member dig deep to make a contribution to the parish. It’s very hard to be a Christian without the “moral elevation” of others. It’s just too easy to feel isolated and inaccessible. It reminds me of a Mick Steven’s New Yorker cartoon of a man on a train surrounded by cellphone users, and he says to the woman seated next to him,

“‘Would you mind talking to me for a while, I forgot my cellphone? ”
In the modern age we have more and more ways to communicate… and fewer and fewer ways to connect.

3. We should go to church because churches create the social capital by which the fabric of our culture and society is maintained.

A Harvard University study asserts, “Houses of worship build and sustain more social capital – and social capital of more varied forms- than any other type of institution in America. Churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship provide a vibrant institutional base for civic good works and a training ground for civic entrepreneurs.

Roughly speaking, nearly half of America’s stock of social capital is religious or religiously affiliated, whether measured by memberships, philanthropy, or volunteering.
Houses of worship run a variety of programs for members, from self-help groups to job training courses to singles’ groups. Houses of worship also spend $15- to $20-billion each year on social services, such as food and housing for the poor and elderly.

Regular religious services attenders meet many more people weekly than non-worshipers, making religious institutions a prime forum for informal social capital building. At the same time, religious faith provides a moral foundation for civic regeneration. Faith gives meaning to community service and good will, forging a spiritual connection between individual impulses and great public issues. That is, religion helps people to internalize an orientation to the public good. ”

• And there are so many different things cutting into the social capital of our society. Did you know that each 10 minutes of additional commuting time cuts all forms of social capital by 10 percent–10 percent less church-going, 10 percent fewer club meetings, 10 percent fewer evenings with friends, etc.
• Family dinners and family vacations or even just sitting and talking with your family are down by one third in last 25 years.
• (Today’s picnic will build social capital in Topeka which is particularly important because…
• Having friends over to the house is down by 45 percent over last 25 years. )

4. We should go to Church because we need to be reminded the world does not revolve around us.

Attending church puts the needs of the world directly in front of us over and over again. In a culture in which we’re increasingly distant from those who have little… when we’re gated-away from the poor and those who are unlike us, churches are among the very few places left where there’s an opportunity to encounter the other as a fellow creation of God.

The Prayers of the People offered Sunday by Sunday keeps the needs and the brokenness of the world ever before us. The passing of the plate provides an opportunity to give to others, which is intrinsically good for us (even when we resent it!) Charitable giving of time, tithe, and talents has the capacity to transform us in the very best of ways.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

5. Church provides a place to educate our children and grandchildren and, if we’re willing, church provides a place where WE might be educated as well.

I’ll never forget the woman (who held a Ph.D. in Education) who emphatically explained to me that the training her sons received in church, not only in the Christian education classes, (which she said were wonderful) but in the coffee hour… among adult parishioners, turned out to be absolutely invaluable to their development.
“Every Sunday,” she told me, “my boys were tutored in how to meet, and talk and interact with adults who cared about them and, later in their lives, those life lessons made such a difference in their lives.”

I’m always amazed at adults who’ve been life-long learners in their vocation, never missed a continuing education opportunity, always took a golf or scuba diving lesson, but have never really done any additional Christian education! What’s up with that? Your 6th grade Confirmation Class is not enough to equip you for a life in Christ!

6. Why should we go to Church?
Church exposes us to great literature, music, and art.
How many of us would be exposed to the great literature of the Bible, the poetry of the Psalms, the soaring music of Bach or Beethoven, the unparalleled English Choral tradition, the exquisite language of Cranmer’s liturgies from The Book of Common Prayer if it weren’t for our being in church? We‘ve seen glimpses of the Holy through these works and God’s been revealed afresh for those of us who participate in these wonders. We’re given an expansiveness in these fine arts which widen our capacity for creativity and increase our capacity for encountering the creativity of God.

7. Going to church provides us the time and space to worship God; to contemplate the majesty of Creation, and to offer our most profound thanks…to give our gratitude to the Creator for the parts of life which beg to be appreciated and for which thanksgiving must be offered.

When a beautiful baby is born or, when your child marries the person of their dreams… When the crisis is averted and the disease has run its course… when there’s that peace which passes all understanding and you know it, for the very first time…. We’re called to worship God primarily out of our own need to give thanks and praise and, if we did not, even the stones would cry out.

Sometimes the Church feels more like a dying ember than a raging spiritual wildfire. Sometimes we are not the people we aspire to be.There’s another old New Yorker cartoon which shows a pack of wolves howling at the moon. A wolf at the back of the pack turns to another and says,
“My question is: Are we making an impact? ”

There are plenty of people who think those of us who attend Church regularly are just, “howling at the moon.” But I believe we ARE making an impact. I believe we DO make a difference. And I believe every single one of our Confirmands this morning has the ability to change, in ways great and small, the world in which we live… precisely because they are part of the Christian Church…and precisely because they attend this great cathedral and participate in the vital ministries to which we are all so committed.

Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

None of us yet know the things that are to come. But if we ever are to find the Spirit of truth, I believe we are most likely to discover it in a church just like this one.


Gallop Poll, March, 2011
Rabbi David Wolpe, Time Magazine, March, 2013
Synthesis, May 15th, 2015
New Yorker Magazine, September 9, 2002
The Saguaro Seminar: Civic Engagement in America – Harvard Kennedy School of Government
79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, Phone: 617-495-1148 – FAX: 617-495-1589
Copyright © 2012 The President and Fellows of Harvard College
New Yorker Magazine, August 8, 1991