Why church matters

To know fully why church is an important part of life takes more than the pastor saying so.

By Amy Butler

“The true alchemists do not change lead into gold,” observed American author William H. Gass. “They change the world into words.”

As one who spends a lot of time trying to change the world into words – a poetic way of saying “frantically compose an intelligible sermon before Sunday morning at 11 a.m.” – this is a declaration I can affirm.

In addition to changing the world into words by crafting meaningful sermons, lately I’ve had increasingly frequent opportunities to try to articulate why I think the church is important. You know: society is changing, people have soccer games and dance recitals to attend on Sundays, church is boring, etc.

I maintain that someone has to be making the case for the church. And I find I’ve been doing it so often that I’ve gotten pretty verbose, if not very good, at articulating theological, social, emotional, spiritual and even personal reasons why I think folks should invest their lives in a faith community.

But once in a while, in between waxing poetic, there are moments when I see what I try so hard to express in words acted out in living color right in front of me that I want to ditch even my prettiest words to stand up, point, and yell: “That! That’s what I’ve been trying to say all this time! See?”

One recent Sunday during worship at the start of the children’s sermon the worship leader invited all the children down to the front of the sanctuary, as is commonly done most Sundays around here.

We all laughed a little bit with delight when a beloved 87-year-old member got up from his pew then and made his way down to the front to sit with the children. And when the children’s sermon was over he got up and walked right back up the aisle to his seat, hand-in-hand with one of our little ones.

It was a sweet moment, made even sweeter after worship during coffee hour when that same elderly member came up to me and said, “It meant so much to me to go down to the front for the children’s sermon.”

He went on to explain that just the week before had been the birthday of his beloved wife of 62 years, who had died only two years before. It was a hard week, he told me, remembering her and thinking about life on his own.

I’d remembered that date the week before so I nodded, still not really understanding what that had to do with his participation in the children’s sermon.

Then he said: “You know, as I age, I feel so very dependent on God – more than I have ever felt in all my life. When the children were called to the front, I thought to myself, ‘You know, that’s how I feel right now; so very dependent on God. I am just like a child.’ I was so glad for the children of our church, that they were here today and that I could walk right up and be one of them for just a bit.”

“Thank you,” he added with tears in his eyes. “I’m so grateful for my church family.”

Watching the fullness of an important message lived out in full color before by eyes, I knew that words alone will never do.

To know fully why church is an important part of life takes more than the pastor saying so. It takes something like a kind word, a shared mission, a prayer offered on one’s behalf.

And sometimes, apparently, it takes an 87-year-old coming down front on Sunday morning for the children’s sermon – reminded of God’s love and care when one little, theologically unsophisticated hand slips into his – and they walk together up the aisle and back to the pew with no words spoken.

That precious moment and others like it are why being the church together is important. If I could ever, possibly, capture something like that in words, wouldn’t that be almost like turning lead into gold?

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.