Grandma was right...going to church is good for you.
I'm not kidding, and I'm not saying this because it's my job. Going to church is good for you.
I just finished a 550-page book called "American Grace." It's by a couple of sociologists who have studied all kinds of research on religion in America. And on almost every measurable scale, going to church is good for you.
It's not about believing, you understand...there are people who believe in God but don't go to church. It's about belonging.
The kind of faith community does not affect the benefits...it could be Protestant or Catholic, evangelical or liberal, Mormon or even Jewish. Going to church (or synagogue) is good for you.
People who go to church regularly measure higher on the happiness scale, and on the health scale. The writers of "American Grace" think this is because of the social connections we make at church. For example, people who attend church but don't have any friends at church are not as healthy and happy as people who attend church and also have good friends in that church. I mean, it's almost like we were created to be in community!
Going to church is good for you. And it's about belonging more than believing.
Going to church is also good for society. I learned from this "American Grace" book that people who go to church volunteer more and give more money. And not just to church causes! Sure, they give time and money to their churches, but they also give more time and money to secular causes than do secular people...civic groups, PTAs, service clubs, health charities like the Red Cross or the Cancer society, and so on.
The clear data on all this surprised me, I'll admit. But Grandma was right...going to church is good for you.
These researchers did find one area in which church people did not score as well as secular people. Church people, on average, do not tolerate dissent as well as secular people.
We church people often are comfortable with authority. And we like tradition. So we don't like it when people challenge authority or tradition. This is an area where beliefs do come into play. The more conservative a church person is, the less tolerant of opposing views that person is. The authors say the difference here between secular and church people is significant. But it's not overwhelming. These researchers just point it out as a weakness church people can have.
Now, I've got one other to add to the list of weaknesses...being mean.
Sometimes church people can be mean. There is gossip, there are harsh words, there is division.
Jesus warns us about this. He says that murder is of course wrong, but so is unjust anger. He warns us against abusive anger in today's speech from Matthew's Gospel.
Now, I have to tell you that I am a fundamentalist about at least one thing. My fundamentalism has to do with how we treat each other in church.
Decisions might be made by the vestry or by committees that I actually disagree with. That has happened and I'm fine with it. I do not really want to be a dictator.
But...we...will...treat...each...other...with...kindness. I am absolutely fundamentalist about that. About the only thing that gets me angry with church people is when someone is being mean.
My gosh, there is so much meanness in our world. There are bullies in schools. There are bullies on the internet. There are politicians who are mean to people. I want the church to be a safe place. We call this part of our building the "sanctuary." That means, literally, safe space. We will be kind here.
We will be kind here! Going to church is good for you, but all that benefit is lost if we are mean to each other.
A few months ago, I heard a story about one of the St. Mark's kids. The grandmother told me the story. The kid apparently thinks about religion a lot, as many kids do. And this kid said to Mom, "Mom, God is dead. So is Jesus. Father Mark is taking over."
I have no idea what the kid meant by that, but I kind of like it! I'm not saying God and Jesus are dead. And I'm definitely not taking over!
But I am a leader of this church, along with others. And as long as I have that role, we will be kind to each other. We will not be mean. We will be kind.
I've said it before, and I'll say it until I die:
The most important thing in life is to be kind.
The second most important thing in life is to be kind.
And the third most important thing in life...is to be kind.
You see, Grandma was right: going to church is good for you!
And with God's help, we are going to keep it that way.