Why I Need the Church

My husband and I were both virgins when we got married.

That alone makes us statistical anomalies, since over 90% of American adults have had sex before their wedding day, and the number of evangelicals who have is not much lower (around 80%). But the fact that we didn’t sleep together until we were married isn’t particularly interesting.

The interesting thing, to me, is that I know at least eleven other couples (that’s 22 individuals) who were also virgins before they were married. They’re all close friends of mine.

Given the statistics, that is positively remarkable.

I’ve tried to figure out why such a large group of us were able to do what almost nobody else does in our culture. We all go to the same church, but we’re not a particularly spiritual bunch of people. We don’t talk about God all that much, and we dress and behave like most other secular people. (Note: this is not something I’m proud of.)

It’s not our church, either, because just as the last of us were getting married, the cohort just below us experienced an explosion of unwed pregnancies.

So what was it?

Sure, one major factor is that we all married quite young – almost all of us were wed between 19-24 years of age (one was 28, and we felt very, very sorry for him for having to wait so long). It’s a lot easier to put off having sex when you don’t have to wait until your late twenties or early thirties.

But the most important contributor, I believe, is the fact that we had each other.

We belonged to a tight-knit community of like-minded young people wherein waiting until marriage was the norm. We talked about it openly at sleepovers and on trips to go see theatre productions. We shared hysterical wedding night stories (one friend confessed, “I thought I was going to have to call 9-1-1!” and we all died laughing. You probably had to be there). We openly voiced our fears. Engaged girls would talk to married girls about their struggles to stay pure, and asked for advice and prayer.

There was no punishment-reward system in place, no fear of shaming. We just did what was expected of us. We expected to wait.

But this is not a post about virginity. This is a post about church.

* * *

Earlier in the year, I told you that the one word I was embracing for 2013 was Holy. I wanted to infuse my year with liturgy, ritual, and the observance of holy days.

It hasn’t been going so well.

The trouble is that it’s very hard to practice liturgy all by yourself.

One of the root words in liturgy is “public.” My dictionary defines liturgy as “a rite or body of rites prescribed for public worship.” It’s something that’s meant to be performed as a communal body.

But no one else I know practices liturgy or observes Holy Days (aside from Christmas and Easter, which have been thoroughly secularized and commercialized). My husband feels like I’m speaking foreign language when I try to talk to him about Advent or liturgical prayer. My mom-in-law will invite us over for pepperoni pizza on a Friday during Lent. On Palm Sunday, my church started its series on marriage. The only thing my friends know about Ash Wednesday is that they stop selling Poonchkies at the local bakery.

I’ve been working through Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, but it’s hard because so much of the language is communal (as it’s meant to be). I find myself skipping over all the passages that begin with “We,” and jumping right over invocations to “confess to one another.” They don’t apply to me. I’m all by myself.

I feel like the prayers would work better if I said them out loud, but I can’t find a good time or place to do that. I end up sitting in bed in my pajamas, reading everything silently in my head to keep from waking the baby. And also, let’s face it, because it’s awkward to read out loud with my husband right there next to me.

I wish I had someone else to do this with. I’m discovering how important it is to have a community in which to celebrate, confess, and pray.

In short, I’m discovering how much I need the Church.

Note that I didn’t say I’m discovering how much I need Sunday morning services, where we meet in a big church building for 30 minutes of singing and 30 minutes of sermon. I’m not sure about that yet.

But I need to be embedded within a body of like-minded folks who want to follow Jesus together. I need to meet regularly with fellow believers and share our fears and burdens, celebrate feasts, and share the sacraments.

We need to remind each other of all that is Holy, that we belong to a backwards Kingdom, where foolishness is wisdom and the normal things are sacred.

I do some of these things already, of course. I meet with a group of friends bi-weekly to discuss books written by Christian authors, and to talk about ways we can live out the ideas we read about. I occasionally go to Sunday morning services to sing worship songs and listen to sermons.

I’ve also found so much strength and encouragement from a community of like-minded bloggers.

And, like I said, I belong to a group of friends that continues to practice chastity and other virtues.

But I really wanted to go deeper this year. I wanted holiness to pervade my daily, weekly, and yearly rhythms. I find myself yearning for the Church, where fasts and feasts and spiritual disciplines are normal and expected — just like chastity was normal and expected amongst my peers in my young adulthood.

So while I work through infusing my daily life with holiness, I also want to focus my energies on figuring out how to be and do church.

I’m just not sure where to start.

Have you been there too? Care to share some of your story?

Photo courtesy of habeebee.
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  1. Sister, I *have* been there too! This is such an insightful post. I love the juxtaposition of the two stories, they lend so much meaning to one another. Over the years I’ve stumbled toward Anglicanism, but it’s not exactly the shining example of a perfect church… And many of the parishes I’ve attended lean toward the evangelical and are rather shy about their own liturgical traditions.

    Perhaps one thought that may help you as you pray your prayerbook is to realize, to imagine, to believe, that you are not alone. You pray with all the other Christians around the world who pray at every hour of every day. You pray with all the other Christians throughout history who pray continually before God’s throne. Count me in on that “we”! (Even when I’m not as faithful as I ought to be about praying.) When you pray you enter into that community of peculiar people which transcends time and space.

    But it’s good to hear that you need church too. I know I do. The “We” in liturgy is part of the miracle of church for me, even as little as I get to say it these days (young baby, ministry responsibilities during the service, etc. = going to church but not participating in the liturgy that drew me here).

    The other origin of the word is the Greek word leitourgia, which means service. Not “order of service” or “church service” but an action: “to serve one another.” I can serve the body by loving my daughter, or running our youth program, or helping with communion, or even praying from home. It’s not about guilt or need or whatever, it’s about desire. Sometimes, growing up in church, we need a little distance or change to love anew. Nothing wrong with that. But when your belly starts to ache for it, even the singing and sermon part, then you go. Before that, just pray, in faith, “we” because it’s mystical and all, but we really are here with you. :)
    Laura recently posted..Lent II: RainMy Profile

    • One thing I always thought would be nice to do would be to observe the hours the way they do in monasteries: matins and vesper and all of that. For like a week. It would be hard, for sure (how do you fit praying every three hours into your (or your kid’s!) schedule?), but very edifying, I imagine. Both the ritual of it and the knowledge that you’re joining with all the monks and nuns and whomever today and through the ages in marking the passage of the day and night. Community in your head, I guess.

  2. Hello Kathleen! I found your blog through the rabbit hole last night and ended up not going to bed until midnight! I am thoroughly enjoying reading through your posts, but I must put it aside for now but, just for now.
    My husband and I were like you and your friends, too. (All of us are evangelical Christians). We and our group of youth friends were all virgins up until our respective marriages. I think you are right, and I have thought and talked about this with them from time to time, that indeed, and close-knit and like-minded community helps with keeping our behavior pleasing in God’s sight.

    Anyway, I really wanted to comment about the need for church. My dh and I have been serving overseas in Christian vocation for the last 13 years. All our children have been born as ex-pats. What gnawed in both our minds was a growing dissatisfaction of no church community in which we could fit into or relate to in our host countries. Not to say there are no churches, but language barriers and other issues arise to make it not a good fit for us. So, long story short, we begin to live in a house church community. It is an ever-changing, ever-organic flow of people from all denominations, yet, we are firm together in the core beliefs as followers of Christ. It is a small group, usually no more than 20 people, who come to our house every Sunday (we’ve got the most spacious yard for all the kids!). It is a bit of work, but we share in prayer, worship, devotion, and then a big meal together afterwards. This has made living in South Asia, with all its cultural differences and heart-aches possible for this Georgia girl.

    I guess what I wanted to relay to you, is that you may want to look into being a part of a house church. There are many pros and cons, but God will lead you to where He wants you to be. I’m sure that’s how you feel, too.

    Back to the world, now! Must get that second cup o’ joe, get the kids going with home-school. Have a great day!

  3. My husband and I waited until after we were married too, and we were both over 25 when we found each other (my husband is so awesome that it was totally worth the wait). It can be hard to have a Holy lifestyle in such a crazy world, and I think the worship we do on our own in private is important as well as worshiping with a group, and I think that if we put effort to one part, we will feel something is missing if we don’t have the other part. Going to church on Sunday won’t have as much impact if I’m not building my relationship with God during the week, and my week is missing something without the spiritual boost I get from attending church.
    Something our family strives to do is to have family scripture study and prayer. Every morning before my husband leaves for work (I’ve told him to wake me up if he needs to because God is more important than sleep), we have our couple scripture study and prayer. At night, before bed, we read some scriptures as a family. Since our little one is so little, this usually involves the children’s scripture story books.
    I’ve attended church pretty consistently throughout my life, but I’ve had varying degrees of participation. I remember moving to an area during my student teaching. I knew I would only be there a short time, so I didn’t bother to participate, get to know people or be very involved. After I graduated, I moved to an area I only intended to stay in for a few months but decided to be involved anyways. The two experiences were night and day. As I put forth the effort to participate the Lord blessed my life and it was more fulfilling. I was able to learn more and develop friendships as I served. Participating in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper had more meaning and I felt closer to Christ.
    I enjoyed reading your post. It makes me want to search for more ways to be holy as well, whether on my own, with my family or as part of a congregation. I hope your quest goes well! I’ll be praying for you!
    Sandy recently posted..Who Are We? Part 3 – Our PotentialMy Profile

  4. All of my closest friends waited, and I’m still waiting! (Almost 33) And I completely agree that it is being part of that kind of like-minded group that has made it possible. Its also what has made many other things possible in my life – and I am blessed to have avoided many perils of young adulthood because of it! I have never NOT been a part of a church, but I have gone years without having a “congregation”. But I have a large group of believers that form my support system and they have been my church for those years when I couldn’t find a physical church to meet my needs. It wasn’t until after a very scary health crisis that I realized that I also needed the physical church. I’m now making my way towards becoming a part of a church that I’m growing to love. Its not perfect, there are things I don’t agree with all the time, and I wish it did some things differently. But it is a good church with believers who are doing their best, just like me. I’m grateful to be part of it.
    Lucky {unlucky} Girl recently posted..What I’m Into (Feb 2013)My Profile

  5. Here is a truth of those of us steeped in liturgical traditions: we don’t think about it. You mark the holy days because they’re the holy days, not because you want to be more holy. You move from one season to the next seamlessly. It’s habit. It’s engrained. You can’t not do it anymore than you can not observe fall or your child’s birthday. Lent and Advent and the rest are part of the rhythm of life.

    The liturgy in a service and the liturgical years are scaffolding for the service and the year respectively. You build your worship and life upon them. They support you so you don’t have to think about it, so you can focus on what’s important, because what’s important isn’t the particular practice or day. It’s not about saying the words, it’s about what you’re saying. The form frees you to focus on the meaning.

    I’m not sure if any of this makes sense. It just seems that all my bloggy friends are evangelicals and they’re all talking about liturgy and I just don’t understand. The whole point of liturgy is so that you don’t have to think about it. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you pray. You don’t have to worry about whether you’ve covered all the bases (confessing enough? Praising enough? Solemn enough? Joyful enough?). You just do it. Or you don’t. It’s not something you try to do. It can’t be half-assed.

    Even though I’m from a liturgical tradition and it seems like I should be able to, I don’t know how to advise you because I can’t quite fathom a life without liturgy. The thirty/thirty model you mention simply isn’t a worship service. It’s a combo concert and lecture, which is fine as a special event but not substantial enough for week after week, year after year.

    So that’s probably not very helpful. Also, I hope it doesn’t come across as judgey. Clearly lots of people have lovely relationships with Jesus (many of them stronger than mine, I’m sure!) without being liturgical. It’s not in any way required. But if it’s something you do, it’s just something you do. You’re completely correct that you need a community for it. Another evangelical practice I find confusing is the concept of “just doing church at home alone this week.” That is a nonsensical statement in a liturgical world, because worship is public and corporate. You can pray and sing and study any day of the week, but on Sunday (and special holy days), you go to church and participate in the liturgy.

    So if you were a member of a liturgical community/family, your MIL wouldn’t offer you meat on Friday (well, if you were Catholic, specifically–not all liturgical traditions do the no meat on Fridays in Lent thing). But if you were that person, you wouldn’t accept and would eat something else. Or you would accept because the rules say you may eat meat to avoid giving offense. Or you would because there are some parts of this you don’t feel strongly about and you’re going to fight the man and show him you don’t need to fast to love Jesus. Because I say this is engrained and automatic and you don’t think about it but you do think about some things and not everyone’s observances are the same.

    Oh dear this was very rambly and it’s on my phone so I can’t go back and edit so I’m just tossing it out there. I don’t know where you’ll come down on this, Kathleen, but I hope you find a solution that brings you peace. :-)
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  6. Yes, yes, yes! This post.

    I am with you. I’m a minister’s wife, and yet, I don’t get enough of the church. I GO to church, but too often, I don’t really participate. I’m actually pretty jaded about the state of the church universal. I think this is why. We do church, but we aren’t church. We are supposed to BE church. I need it. I so need it.

  7. Hi Kathleen,
    I’ve been there. I’m actually spending this year on a similar journey that I describe in my post, “Resuming the Beautiful and Powerful Dialogue”

    I’m struggling too because, like you I realize that God somehow embodies these prayers and words in a unique way when shared corporately.

    I think you’re onto something. I’m at a lost too, I have some ideas, but haven’t landed on a way to infuse a sense of community as I explore liturgy in my devotional time at home. I’ll be praying for God to help you think creatively about community and liturgy.

    Osheta Moore recently posted..Third Way Womanhood Pt. 4My Profile

  8. Been there Kathleen, but I think you know that! ;) I think liturgy is something you can learn and bring into your life, but it is very hard to do without a community – because liturgy is about public worship. I do think there is a lot you can glean from other denominations without being a member of them though – like our Holy Days etc. Unlike a commenter above I do think we choose to celebrate certain Holy Days to work on becoming more holy – maybe not the major ones, but the little ones definitely.

    Not trying to pull you away from your Mennonite roots, but I do find something similar in your story to what I was experiencing a few years ago and I found a lot of comfort and peace when I started attending an Episcopalian church. They had liturgy and structure which was something I craved that was never really fulfilled as a Protestant. Obviously that decision has taken be down the road I’m on now, and yours doesn’t need to be the same, but I would encourage you to try out a Episcopal services just on the off chance it satisfies some of these liturgical cravings.

    As someone new to liturgy too I will say it can be difficult and slow fitting that new life into your day to day life – heck, I still struggle with the idea that I’m supposed to go to church regularly now! You know we’re trying to insitute more observation of Holy Days, etc. in our lives and in real life (outside of the blog community) we’re really doing it alone. No one else around here celebrates Candlemas or All Soul’s and it can be a little weird at times.
    Molly Makes Do recently posted..Five FavoritesMy Profile

  9. My church background finds me now equally comfortable in the liturgical traditions (Anglican background) and the happy-clappy charismatic traditions (parents who took us to Christian festivals twice a year).
    Now we find ourselves in a pretty mainstream church with wonderful worship and preaching but almost no liturgy. And so I miss that part of my church experience. And I can really identify with you, that it’s hard when you’re so wanting it but don’t have the community experience of it.
    I’m wondering though, whether there must be more people like me in our church (of around 180 ppl) and maybe it’s just about finding them? And then somehow figuring out how to be a small liturgical community together.
    I’m also seeking to influence our church, not to become a liturgical community entirely, but to be more inclusive of those traditions, more comfortable with including it more regularly. As an international church, our congregation come from multiple denominational backgrounds, so I’m sure many would welcome this.
    Thanks for wrestling with these thoughts and questions, I love reading about where you are in this walk with Holy.
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  10. First a thank you: I ordered the Book of Common Prayer For Ordinary Radicals after first reading about it here, and I am delighted with it on many levels. I come from a liturgical tradition, so I am used to being nourished by liturgical forms. But I was no longer comfortable using prayers drawn exclusively from my own denomination. I wanted something that would connect me to the greater Church – my brothers and sisters from other traditions. I was so pleased to find an inclusive book, which seeks to break down barriers and bring believers together, which recognizes the diverse riches of different communities.

    I am using this book as my personal devotional, but even though I’m usually alone when I pray (sometimes my husband joins me), I agree with you that it needs to be read aloud . Otherwise it’s too easy to glide over passages without really taking them in. When I read the text aloud slowly and consciously, it’s wonderfully centering. So I hope that you will persevere, even if it means getting up a little earlier, or joining your husband a little later.

    I also echo what a few other commenters have suggested, that you consider visiting a liturgical church. It doesn’t have to mean abandoning your own community – it could instead be an exercise in expanding the boundaries, meeting new sisters and brothers in Christ. An enriching experience.

  11. 30 minutes of church and 30 minutes of sermon does not feel like church to me anymore. I’m thankful for a Liturgical church. Making the jump from Protestant to Catholic was like visiting another country and deciding to stay. Learning curve, culture shock, depression, but eventual acceptance and love. The Catholic church is beautiful and it makes you want to stay. The claims and the history, the Saints and the holidays, the ritual and the Sacraments, the order of worship and the unity (especially when compared to the shattered Protestant denominational world) is beautiful to me. And compelling. It took time, but it’s home now.
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  12. This is a wonderful post! It is so important to find your “tribe”. We are only as good as those we surround ourselves with :)
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  13. This spoke to me because I recently have had the opposite problem of to \o much liturgy and not enough living as Jesus taught. As for liturgy with others there is a website that has the liturgy read with others. I do not remember the address but google praying the hours or daily office and you should find it. Also Phyllis Tickle has many books on praying liturgy “the hours”.

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