Resolution 2018: Back to Church

Fr Tom Simmons, Rector St. Peter’s Episcopal Church

Chaplain, Purcellville Volunteer Rescue Squad

If you’ve been slow to settle on a New Year’s Resolution, may I suggest a possibility?

Return to Church!

I’ve found some good reasons why, from John Stonestreet. I quote from his essay in the Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of Culture & Opportunity:

     "The benefits of regular church attendance (or any other kind of religious observance), both societal and personal, are virtually impossible to dispute.

     For starters, it can literally add years to your life — two to three, to be exact. Though no one knows exactly why, it is well documented. At least part of the reason is that it promotes healthier lifestyles. On average, regular churchgoers drink, smoke and use recreational drugs less than non-churchgoers do. They are also less likely to be sexually promiscuous.

     That is what churchgoers don’t do. At least as important is what they do.

     A few years ago, Stanford anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann told a story about a Bible study she attended while researching evangelicals. When a member of the study tearfully told the group that she lacked $1,500 for a necessary dental procedure, Luhrmann was amazed that the group paid for the procedure anonymously.

     Luhrmann may have been amazed, but I suspect that regular churchgoers are not. One of the characteristics of regular churchgoing is that it increases social ties and strengthens already existing ones. In other words, churchgoing creates communities that become the means by which people take care of another.

     Then there is the effect of churchgoing on children. “Compared to their unchurched peers, youth who are involved in a religious organization take tougher courses, get higher grades and test scores and are less likely to drop out of high school,” sociologist Robert Putnam writes in his book “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.” “They also “have better relations with their parents and other adults, have more friendships with high-performing peers, are more involved in sports and other extracurricular activities.”

     Moreover, Putnam writes, “A child whose parents attend church regularly is 40 to 50 percent more likely to go on to college than a matched child of non-attenders.”

     This holds true regardless of socioeconomic status. The problem is that regular church attendance is increasingly tied to socioeconomic status. According to Putnam, while “weekly church attendance” among college-educated families since the late 1970s has remained more or less the same, it has dropped by almost a third among those with a high school diploma or less. The result is “a substantial class gap that did not exist” 50 years ago. It is yet another way that poorer children are falling behind their more affluent counterparts.

     Churchgoing benefits those outside of the church as well. A recent study by Brian and Melissa Grim of Georgetown University and the Newseum Institute, respectively, found that the “value of the services provided by religious organizations and the impact religion has on a number of important American businesses” totals $1.2 trillion.

     Thus, regular church attendance and religious observance are good both for individuals and for society as a whole.

Church. It’s good for you!

Maybe you grew up in church but drifted away in college.  Maybe you jumped from one church looking for “a better fit,” but never landed in another.   Maybe you broke with a congregation after a bad experience.  Maybe you walked away because of kool kid caricatures making fun of the church. Maybe you left for “The Church of Bernie” (left-wing politics sometimes has a religious appeal for people), but found the heat of politics generates little light.   Maybe you’ve viewed the church from afar with a curious raised eyebrow. 

For whatever reason, here you are, at the start of 2018, without real connection in Christian community. But you’re thinking maybe you’d like to… try again. 

You miss the Mass.  You’d like to be around more positive people.  You want a better message for your kids.  More purpose.  Better rhythm in life.   A chance to serve others.  You’d like to learn to “love your neighbors”…or your spouse again.  And then there’s Jesus, born on Christmas! Want to get to know him better? 

There are LOTS OF REASONS to do it.  Now you just need to…do it. 

Try St. Peter’s Episcopal Church: www.stpetes.net. When God initiated the Church, he had in mind a heartfelt connection with diverse people.  The Church is not a building.  It’s a community committed to doing life together and knowing God.  Through thick and thin, these are the friends who stay by your side.  God designed the Church just for you – A Place to Belong. 

That’s what St. Peter’s seeks to be for people seeking community connections, nourishment and fun, opportunities to serve others, and make an impact for good in our world. 

Check it out.  We just might enhance your 2018.

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