FOR SHOPPERS AND SEEKERS


Why try church? Everybody comes to this question from different angles. Some of you might have been brought up in a church and, for whatever reason, you’ve been turned off by what was going on. Some of you might never really have taken the God or religion thing seriously, and have had no frame of reference to consider going to church. Others might think church is okay, but life’s too busy and Sunday mornings are just too valuable to give up for worship. And yet we think it’s critically important to ask ourselves, “So what’s so great about going to church, anyway?
episcopal church altar St Andrews Marthas Vineyard ”Here’s one possible way to answer that, even in this day and age when we all too often think we know so much: Everyone has a spiritual nature. Something inside is driving us. In fact, we might say we have a kind of hunger that cannot be “fed” by food or the other objects of our desires, like wealth or personal intimacy, or even the basic need to love and be loved. We sense that there is something more. We can read and think about it all we want, but we come to realize that any journey we may set out on in this area cannot yield the same results that might come about by joining up with others on that journey. We might come to understand that faith underlies the sort of knowledge we derive from information, observation, and assumed fact. In other words, we bring our own world to the world of phenomena—what we sense and see—first. What we believe shapes everything else.
Unlike any other discipline we might undertake—whether in the sciences or in the arts—there is only one area of human endeavor that addresses head-on our universal human quest to understand our own meaning: the study of God, or theology. Theology might be described, in shorthand, as a way to communicate together our thoughts about God and humankind, and it provides a language for us to converse in. Scripture, which is a certain kind of literature unlike any other and written for its own unique purposes, can be described as a record of certain peoples’ dialogue, or conversation, with and about, God. As such, its function is unique in the lives of those who find a use for it. It is unlike a newspaper, or a textbook, or a novel, or poetry — although Scripture does in fact contain all of these forms of literature.
Now—and this may be a stretch for some of you—“church” is the term for what was formed after a person named Jesus was crucified about two thousand years ago. The people who were there at that time left all kinds of evidence and testimony about how they responded to that. It was, and continues to be, full of energy and a vitality of spirit that has changed, and continues to change, people, and the world. It is part of a bigger mystery, but only in the sense that we as humans really can’t explain it all according to what we know by our own assessment of observable phenomena and the scientific method of hypothesis and naming something as proven. Once we are comfortable with the notion that we as humans can’t possibly explain everything, then we can be comfortable knowing we indeed live with mystery. Indeed, our very lives are a mystery.
And yet we realize there are certain things about our lives that suggest we can know things in many different ways. Our faith, which many say comes to us from outside us, is one of those ways. And it is ultimately and critically important for us to engage, and to explore. It makes all the difference in our lives of worry, wonder and wistfulness. Church is nothing but a current and historical response to the Jesus event. It is not merely a building of people who are usually quite joyous and (sometimes) welcoming to others, but it is the people themselves, responding in community, to what happened at a certain point in historical time. How “church” looks or what “church” does varies from place to place and time to time. But it always involves people of a (basically) like mind sharing their experience of the Christ, who is himself a mystery, fitting enough to be considered by many to be ‘of God’ enough to be equated with God. Could God be any lesser thing than a mystery to us, whom he created? And not only that, could it not be true that it is in our practice of our faith that the substance of our faith is revealed to us? This is what church is, and what church is for.  Saint Andrews stained glass window
Perhaps the best short answer to the question, “Why try church?” then, is this: Because it helps us.
Why try St. Andrew’s Church? Here’s what we say to everyone asking this question: We think this is a great church to place yourself (and your family) before the mystery of God and receive nourishment and peace by doing so. The Episcopal Church is inherently respectful of the individual. The sacraments (things like holy communion and baptism) that are very much a part of us convey what they signify—that is, they themselves are signs of a different plane of reality or consciousness that speak to us from the perspective of that sort of unique knowledge we call faith. And although we maintain many of the traditions of the ancient church (which began immediately after Jesus’ death and serve as historical witness to the response of those who were there then), we understand that each and every generation of followers must engage with, and interpret, that very same mystery for themselves, and respond to that very same Christ event in their own way. Our church provides the faithful, as well as the seeker and shopper, the freedom, space, and respect to do just that. Hence, although our worship may be said to be traditional, it is not traditionalistic—or, at least, we try very hard not to let that happen. “Common Prayer” does not mean—or require—“common belief.” Church can be one significant way we can find healing, and personal growth, and real transformation in life—and contribute to a sense of well-being that cannot be obtained anywhere else.
Not everyone may be suited for any one given church. But most of us here at St. Andrew’s would likely agree that it is important for everyone to find a church home that works for him or her. For that reason, we encourage seekers and shoppers to try us—and other churches, for that matter—a number of times before they decide whether it’s right for them. We care for you!
Now—just to keep it real, here: No church will give you everything you think you want or need. We like to think ourselves open and warm and friendly, but who’s to say you might not run into someone having an off day? Or the music just doesn’t seem quite wonderful enough, or the sermon didn’t hit you quite right. By its very nature, church is imperfect.
Edgartown Lighthouse near St Andrews But the real question to ask yourself, in your visits, is whether you have been able to sense the holy and experience God in a way that touches your spirit and nourishes you for the week ahead. And whether you can picture yourself feeling comfortable in that community of people who worship and think (basically) in a certain way. Ask questions. Be yourself. Try a few things, or not. Visit the priest for a friendly chat. Something has caused you to come here. Is your thirst being slaked? Perhaps the short answer to the question, “Why should I try St. Andrew’s Church?” might be this: because this might be the very church that helps you.Paraphrasing the French philosopher Blaise Pascal: What have you to lose? You have everything to gain…