I suspect all of you know I used to be a minister, but you don’t know that when I stopped being a minister something funny happened. It meant I didn’t have to go to church anymore. If the preacher was boring, shallow, or intellectually challenged, I didn’t have to go to church. If the music was too sentimentally religious, I didn’t have to go to church. If the building was cold and unwelcoming, I didn’t have to go to church. If the people weren’t nice enough to me, I didn’t have to go to church. And if I just felt like staying in bed, I didn’t have to go to church. This was quite liberating, and I used my new-found freedom quite a bit. Now, I’m in a kind of in-between place. I still don’t have to go to church, but I am married to the minister. Hmm…
I missed three Sundays in January, not, I should emphasize, for the reasons listed above. So, last Sunday when I returned, I realized I had missed something and I thought it might be interesting to tell you what.
I get to church quite early and so I am there when people start arriving. We greet each other, often hug, check in, chat, and so on. When I’m not there I miss renewing and continuing friendships. I miss the enjoyment of being in relationships.
The church is, of course, a community of people and because I am there early, I help with things. I sometimes put bulletins in hymn books, set up tables and take them down again after the service, move chairs around, and do any number of things that people ask me to help with. Each one of these activities on their own aren’t all that important, but they are me being a part of a community. Truth is, CCMI is the only community I belong to and when I’m not there I miss doing the very simple but important thing human beings do—help each other. When I miss church, I miss doing and being that very simple important human thing.
During each worship we share announcements and news. When I’m not there I don’t hear the news. I don’t hear what the community is up to and what the community will be up to. I miss out, and it’s no one’s fault but my own. And in my case, chairing one of our committees, I miss the chance to make announcements, occasionally even important ones.
During the worship service we have a time for prayer requests when people share their joys and sorrows, blessings and difficulties. When I am not there I don’t hear what might be most important in a friend’s life that week. It’s not just that I don’t get to pray for them. It’s more. It’s that I don’t know something that a person wants me to know. I miss knowing that a friend desires me to be a part of their joy or sorrow. That’s a big miss.
We all know the CCMI choir is excellent and we enjoy listening to the music. Having said that, there are a lot of good choirs in the world. On Sunday mornings, something else beyond excellent singing is going on. The choir performs in a particular place and context. The choir sings for us in, at least for an hour, a place that is very special if not sacred to us. And the choir sings, not just as performance, but as part of a worship experience, thus adding to, often in profound and sublime ways, that experience. For me CCMI is the only place where I can experience excellent music in that kind of place and in that kind of context, and thus one of the few times I can touch sublimity. If I don’t show up, I miss out on that experience completely. Another big miss.
And finally, the sermons. I mention the preaching last not because it is the least important of my “misses.” In survey after survey when people are asked what is important in the church experience and why they continue to come, preaching is always in the top three reasons—the other two are usually music and friendship.
Last Sunday Roberta reminded you that she was continuing her sermon series. I hadn’t been there for three Sundays so didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. I missed out. But there is more to the missing than that. Preaching is a particular rhetorical genre. It is not a lecture given in a lecture hall. It is not a TED talk given on a big state. It is spoken in a particular place, that sacred space I mention above, and in a particular context, worship. As a result, the experience of listening, at least for me, evokes a special and specific kind of thinking and feeling that I do not experience anywhere else. I would say, it is a way of thinking and feeling that is important for me if I want to continue figuring out who I am and why I am. When I don’t show up, I miss that opportunity. A really big miss.
All this implies that CCMI has value for me. If it did not, I certainly would not miss all the things I have just mentioned. And if CCMI is worth missing it is also worth sharing.
- Dale Rominger