It is easy to feel anonymous and even alone at church. In large churches, there can be more than 10,000 parishioners at the same parish, attending any of the five or six masses on a weekend. Many get lost in a sea of faces: not knowing anyone and never getting chance to regularly see the same people, they find themselves joined together with others in proximity only, each practicing a private devotion. What a sad irony.
This is by no means a problem for large churches only. No matter the size of the church, unless people make a concerted effort to get to know the people with whom they are worshipping, (and I don’t just mean names, I mean knowing the person in their struggles, prayers, joy, and life) “community” worship does not take on its fullest expression. I sympathize with those who feel that it would be a better experience to simply stay home and read the bible than to go to church because they simply do not know what it means to worship with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Their experience has been one of boredom, loneliness, and anonymity, and they do not know that it can be different, let alone how to do it.
To me, the answer seems obvious: get involved with what the Church is doing the rest of the week! Sunday is a time for the community for worship, but it is not all that the community does. For example, at St. Anthony’s in Camden, a group of people meet each Thursday evening for a Bible study called “Quest”. Unlike other Bible studies that meet in the church and are led by one or two people, this one is hosted in a different person’s house each week where there is food and fellowship in a comfortable environment. There is a guide to how the time should go, but in the two times that I’ve went we have yet to follow any sort of strict program. The whole point of the time together is to listen to the readings for the upcoming Sunday and to share our lives with one another. That’s about it.
For me, the activity itself is incidental. Sure, bible studies are great. But it’s not about the bible study, it’s about the community coming together each week around a common focus as a way to know one another better, pray with one another, and form intimate bounds within a worshipping community. It’s a time to share our own struggles with faith, ask questions, offer support, learn from those who are walking with us, and really, to just spend some time laughing with good people. For this Quest group, it all started with a longing to build a community; six years of faithful meetings later, they continue to meet each week because they have developed a spiritual bond that keeps their faith alive.
It’s communities like these that every church needs if it wants to have life in mission and worship. They are the building blocks of the Church, its place of strength and love. Because, honestly, how can we possibly worship or work with one another if we don’t recognize a single face or know where each of us is coming from?
I guarantee you that there are communities of people like this at your church already. Take a look at your bulletin this weekend and I bet that you’ll see a dozen different ways to get involved with the people around you throughout the week. Why not try one out? Pick any event, ministry, or prayer group and commit yourself to it for a few weeks to see what it’s like. My guess is that you’ll find people you don’t know, good people, struggling with your same struggles, wondering the same things, and looking for companions of the journey.
If the Church is something you’re already committed to each Sunday and yet, it’s not fulfilling you like you would hope, why not go on a “quest” for community on a different day of the week? The Church is alive seven days a week, 365 days a year, engaged in the world in almost every way you can imagine. Trust me when I say that Sundays mean so much more when there’s something from Monday to Saturday to bring to worship!
Very good Post, Casey!