Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Why We Go

Why go to meeting/church?

Why not not go?

My husband and I are currently looking around for band-mates to start up the band for the church thingie (see Prism link in the sidebar), Our little posters are pinned up willy-nilly all over town and stuffed in the pockets of almost everyone we know. Since Husband is very representative of our "target market" so to speak, I am letting him lead on this project. But it takes a great deal of patience on my part.

I suggested that maybe we could start without the band.

He gave me an odd look. "What would be the point in that? Why go?"

Why go indeed. He explained:

"The band is what makes it real. The point is relevance. We're not trying to impress anyone, just trying to say religion is where we are and where we live. So we need to start the way we mean to carry on."

Translation: If there's no band, then I won't go.

The medium is the message.

Okay. This is important. Husband is representative of the general population, and if Husband isn't interested in going to a church thingie of his own creation unless it has a band, then others won't come either. Maybe people aren't really searching for religion: they're searching for relevance--action, connection. Whatever -- it doesn't matter. What matters is that we create this church thingie for them, not for some theoretical reason. We do it on their terms, in their language.

The last thing the world needs is another lame church.

Husband and I ended up talking about why people go to church.

For catholics, the answer came easy (since we were both raised catholic). They go for that piece of bread. It's called "the bread of life" in RC circles. Many people skip out as they walk back to their seats from communion, just making a bee-line for that back door, because it's essentially over. It's not about the homily or the muttered liturgy or the hymns -- it's about that bread.

For fundamentalists, the answer came easy too. They need the scaffolding. Being a fundamentalist is hard work. You have to keep your brain contorted and block out contrary thoughts. So you need weekly reinforcement of doctrine, quotes, and the "holy hootenanny" to keep yourself immersed in your belief system. It's what Thomas Carlysle called "our spasmodic efforts to believe that we believe."

For quakers in the silent tradition, the answer is communion. Right? That's the point of the silence. It's not supposed to be individual silence, but rather, collective silence, in the form of an inward journey of sorts.

And what of the quakers who no longer experience this communion, but just find they sit in the silence, directionless, forcing themselves to centre, crossing and re-crossing their legs, week after week?

They take a break from meeting.

I mention this because as past clerk of nominating committee, I had the task of contacting everyone in the meeting to talk to them about their roles in the upcoming year. What I found was that all of the under-45s in the meeting were "taking a break" from meeting this year.


This age-group only. All of them. Hm.

My sense is that the under-45s have to work hard at getting the culture of meeting to work for them, which creates a barrier to communion. They also inwardly resent that culture (which developed in another time) and the fact that it's not part of their worldview (which is current and probably postmodern), which adds a further barrier. But that's just a guess.

In addition, people change. It's called the spiritual journey. Few religions (and meetings) leave room for a full spiritual journey, with all its detours and dulled periods. Most have only one focal point. If your journey takes you in a different direction, your batteries start to drain, and you drift away.

There's nothing to make you stay.

Husband and I did talk a bit about mainstream protestant churches too, why people go to them. The answers were elusive to us. We really can't figure out why people go.

It could be any of the above reasons, in a kind of watered-down way (but then, why not just go to one of those other churches/meetings and get the non-watered-down version?).

It could be to hear a sermon (but then, why not just read a good spiritual book at home?).

It could be to meet and talk to people (but then, why settle for sitting in pews all facing the front, not talking to each other--except for a brief coffee afterwards? why not just come for the coffee and skip the service?).

It could be for the music, but only if you are into high-brow classical music, pipe organ, and/or plodding 19th-century hymns (percentage of population: probably less than 1 percent).

It could be to recite those bold-lettered responses written into the program so that they can all say them together in that church rhythm.

Most mainstreamers I know who go to church say they go for their children, so that their children will have a religious education. Their children, of course, would much rather not go. They go only because their parents make them go.


I know why I'm no longer going to meeting. It was draining my batteries. Said batteries were dead. If I hadn't started this blog and met all of you, I would have become one messed-up quaker. Instead, I'm trying to start up something that has relevance.

Husband says it's going to start with the band.

There's the light. I'm following it.

It's already charging my batteries.


At 7:40 AM, Anonymous Alice M. said...

Dear Nancy

That's great. So glad to hear it. Great post - thanks. Best wishes and I'm looking forward to finding out what happens!

Alice M.

At 1:04 AM, Blogger Johan Maurer said...

One of the subjects I'd like to tackle sometime is the difference in motivation between those who already belong to a church community and those who step into the community for the first time.

If you can stomach the relentless jocularity, I recommend the book Church Marketing 101: Preparing Your Church for Greater Growth, by Richard L. Reising--not for pointers on starting a whole new church, just for thinking about the differences between these two categories in a systematic way.

At 1:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would just like to say that 23 years ago, I attended a Quaker wedding. The feeling I received that day, of coming to my spiritual home has not changed since. The character of the meetings I have attended since have changed, but the clear leading to attend as regularly as possible has never shifted. I go because I must. (not because I want to give or hear messages or be seen, or be on committees).

At 4:44 PM, Anonymous David M. said...

When I was twenty, and alone in the town where I was going to school, I joined the local Presbyterian church. Why? I was lonely, I was more or less in trouble, I was empty inside, It was a block away. The people seemed really nice, they had a serious music program. I had had a brush with presbyterianism in the past, but had never been confirmed until I joined this church.

This was as mainline as protestant churches get: Massive mid-nineteenth century structure, poshly updated. (This replaced their colonial church building) Past US president as former member. Very cerebral sermons. Welches and white bread cube brought to the pew once a month or so.

I got really involved: Sang in the choir, youth group, committees, the whole bit. Of course it didn't take long to see that gay people were as welcome there as a fart in a phone booth. Someone more perceptive than me would have seen it immediately. They were glad that they had one around as a show of their tolerance and diversity, but that was as far as it went. I was gone in a couple of years when I got out of school, and left town. I don't even remember what the real or imagined slight was that sent me packing, but I was gone.

One of the committees I served on had the job of visiting inactive members. I think we were trying to get some money out of them. Since I was local and had no car, I went to see people in the surrounding neighborhood, who weren't very prosperous. They had somehow gotten the idea that joining this prestigious institution would give them materially significant contacts, and when that didn't happen, they stopped attending.

I didn't go to church for years, until God more or less dragged me into Quaker meeting. Good luck with your new leading: As for me, it seems that Quakers should advertise for people who want a church connection but can't stand bad music.

At 6:33 PM, Blogger Nancy A said...

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