A little over two months ago I (an ordained minster who has gone to church my whole life) walked away from church– for three months. It is what I've decided to do with my sabbatical. You can read about my initial thoughts on my blog or on The Huffington Post. As the journey unfolds, I will be blogging about it in this series entitled, “Church No More.” I hope you will not only follow along, but add your voice to the reflection by commenting or joining the discussion on my FB page.
A little over two months ago, I decided I'd spend my three month sabbatical not going to church. Which might seem like a perfectly normal thing to do – except that I'm a minister. I've had some strange and wonderful experiences which I've written about, but possibly more strange and more wonderful than the experiences are the responses I've received.
From the very beginning the most frustrating response I get is not folks telling me I'll lose my faith if I leave church (and they have), or the ones telling me I can't begin to understand what it's like to be Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) in three short months (lots of those were also disturbingly aggressively worded), but rather the ones that say, “Oh, 'sabbatical!' Thanks. Now I have a word to call what I do! I stopped going to church years ago.”
“No!,” I'd think while unsuccessfully trying to figure out how to reach through my laptop screen and shake some sense into them, “You are not on sabbatical! The sabbatical I'm taking about has to do with taking a rest, not leaving. It's rest and recuperation – communion with God in a way that is restorative. It's not about leaving! Sheesh.”
More than two months into my sabbatical, I now have to say, “Boy was I wrong.” They are on sabbatical, more so than I am.
Sabbatical is about rest and recuperation. It is about communing with God in a restorative way. For a lot of church going people that is not the way they would describe Sunday mornings. I know it wasn't for me. Sure, it was at times. I certainly always looked forward to seeing people and we definitely experienced communion with God in the fellowship and worship we shared. Rest, however? Recuperation? A restorative experience? Uh, no.
“Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” In the Protestant church, Sunday is our Sabbath, but there seems to be far too little sabbath in the Sabbath. While there are exceptions to the rule, for far too many people, going to church is a chore. There's nothing restful or restorative about it. However, there is a pretty good chance that someone will make a remark about how you are dressed or shoot a sideward glance at you because you are singing entirely too loud or do any number of surprisingly judgmental things while they presumably gather to learn how to follow the teachings of the one who taught “judge not” and “love your neighbor.”
And that's just the tip of the tension iceberg that Sunday morning has become. Try breaking the segregation barrier in most churches. Try helping out where you weren't asked to help. Try suggesting a new way to do outreach or invite a homeless person to worship. How about questioning the biblicalness of the Trinity or asking why Jesus seems a little different in the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John? Ah! Feeling rested and restored yet?