took some vacation time between Christmas and New Year’s Day and worshiped at my “home church.” As I walked through the halls, I thought about how much time I spent in those spaces.
I have seen almost every nook and cranny of that place. As I took off my coat and accepted a bulletin, I heard my name called out in greeting and accepted several hugs. Scattered among all the faces I did not recognize were a lot of people I have known most of my life. I have been away from my home church for many years, but it still feels like home to me.
A few years ago, at Providence Christian where I am the minister, I finished locking doors and turning off lights after all the Sunday activities and headed back to my office when I came upon one of our youth who was about 12 years old at the time. “
Eddie, how are you getting home?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said without any worry or anxiety. His parents had driven separately that day and each parent thought Eddie was with the other.
After I dropped Eddie off at home, I reflected on how nice it was that Eddie felt safe and secure at church. He has worshiped at Providence his whole life, attended worship, countless potlucks and many youth functions. Providence is his church family and home.
Jesus also felt at home at the Temple. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus said to his parents after they had searched for him for three days (Luke 2. 41-52). When Jesus was 12 years old, the holy family went up to the Temple as usual, scripture says. Jesus had grown up going to Synagogue and Temple and he was very comfortable in those places. Like Eddie, when he got left behind, he was not stressed or worried.
Today, the church would not even make the list of places parents would look for their missing child. Only one third of Americans attend church regularly. Once our youth leave home, three out of four also leave the church. As young adults, they are the least likely of all age groups to attend religious services or activities, the least likely to pray, the least likely to say that they are influenced by religion, and twice as likely to identify as atheist.
Sociologists with the National Study of Youth and Religion have conducted studies over many years on adolescents and found that religious youth in the United States have significantly higher self-esteems and hold more positive attitudes about life than their non-religious peers. Not only are church kids happier and more positive, they are also less likely to participate in delinquent and risky behaviors. They have fewer problems in school, are less likely to commit a crime and more likely to participate in constructive and socially positive activities.
Church involvement is not only good for children and youth, and adults who are active in church also experience many positive effects. Churchgoers are happier, sleep better, have lower blood pressure, live longer and have better marriages than adults who do not attend.
As a community, we all agree that people should engage in things that are good for them. People should eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water, get good exercise, manage stress and sleep eight hours a night. We tell parents to hold their babies, read to their children, take them outside to play and feed them well. But, how often do we say to ourselves and others, “Go to church. It is good for you!”
There are things that we get from church that we just do not get anywhere else. We learn that there is something greater and bigger than us, that connects us to everyone else and all of creation. We learn that we are not in control and are not the center of the universe. And we also learn that we were created in God’s image, beautiful and holy, loved by God unconditionally forever, and so is everyone else.
We learn that we are forgiven, and not defined by our mistakes. We learn that God’s love is so great, God came to live among us so that we might have eternal and abundant life. A church provides us a community to walk with us in the good times and bad. At church we learn about Jesus. In church, we are accepted as we are, and challenged and encouraged to be better.
As we work together to improve Jessamine County, let us include our churches as part of any plan that aims for our people to be healthier and happier. May we work toward a time when our young people will once again say, “Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?”
Carol Devine is the minister at Providence Christian Church.