Random Thoughts About Living in a Church Community

I live in a largely Christian world, and spend a lot of my life with other non-New Church Christians. We are active members of the United Church of Christ, a Methodist-Presbyterian mix that formed 50+ years ago when neither church could stand on its own (if you’re wondering what kind of doctrine comes from such a mix of conflicting dogmas, the answer is that we are the Christians who are neither Baptist, Lutheran, or Catholic, and we don’t sweat the small stuff.). 

Over the years Mark and I have become deeply connected to other members, especially older couples who have lived clean and meaningful lives without fanfare, who consistently serve as deacons, cooks, trustees, board members, choir members, tech support, and anything else that is needed, all in their volunteer church life. Churches are a wonderful avenue to community, even aside from any religiosity–a fact that is often missed in the mainstream media in its lament over the problems of loneliness and broken relationships and disease. Our tech guy, Jose, who films countless services and other events at the church, sometimes as a volunteer, recently announced that he will retire this summer. In his announcement he gruffly stated, “I don’t really consider myself a religious person” with a rueful laugh, adding, “The church family means a lot to me.” I suspect he will discover that he still wants to come to church, just because.  

What is it about coming to church every 7th day that is so powerful? It’s such an easy commandment to keep, compared to some of the others! Just a habit, do-able for those of us lucky enough to not be in 24-hour service shifts. While we have been through many phases with our church, I’m finding that once you put in enough time, the familiarity and comfort, coming from a thousand hymns and prayers chanted together and a thousand conversations over coffee fellowship builds, imperceptibly, until suddenly a child whom you watched grow up or an old person you watched grow old is confiding in you as a trusted friend.

I was interviewed by the host of “Choose to be Curious” as a fellow person of the media, a label that we were both reluctant to own for many years. (I am also a radio show host and a reporter for the paper). In it we discuss the lack of media coverage on the fact that millions of people worldwide consider their church community to be their strongest defense against loneliness, purposelessness, and bitterness. I think this lack of attention is improving however; I heard a show about the benefits (not abuses) of religious life on public radio recently, and also read a long article in a magazine about brain health, outlining the ten benefits of being part of a religious community.

My parents prefer to watch a New Church service on zoom rather than attending any church in person. For them, church is more of an intellectual exercise. It’s all about taking in the message of the sermon. I do get it, but there is a loss there, both for them and for local churches, that they are not taking part other than peripherally. Maybe someday the distinctiveness of a sermon informed by Swedenborg will seem less important than the rewards of worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ together in person on a Sunday morning.

Somewhere I heard the salient notion that the worst time to be an atheist is when you are feeling grateful and have no one to thank! So true! I feel such sadness for anyone who misses out on that expansive, joyful, chest-filling, deep-welling sense of gratitude and glory that come to me on occasion. Who would ever miss the chest-filling moment of joy when singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” on Easter morning in a thunderous crowd? Jerry, our former neighbor, father of three homeschooled children our girls’ ages, and member of the local baptist church, said it best one Easter morning as passed each other on our way to our respective churches. “We are the lucky ones today! We get to sing!”

About Katya Gordon

Katya Goodenough Gordon lives in Two Harbors, Minnesota, just a block from the north shore of Lake Superior. She has lived in this picturesque setting since 2008 when she and her family completed their first yearlong voyage living aboard a sailboat. Aside from home, marriage, and family, she is an author and reporter, a radio show host, a climate activist, and an active member of the United Church of Two Harbors. Born and bred in Bryn Athyn, PA, she is increasingly aware of and grateful for the ideas instilled in her childhood from Swedenborg's Writings, and always looking for ways to spread these life-giving truths in her community and beyond.

7 thoughts on “Random Thoughts About Living in a Church Community

  1. Thank you for this upbeat news and focusing on the generous gifts of being in a community. Yes! I wouldn’t personally use the term “intellectual exercise” about watching church online because it suggests something that doesn’t change you, doesn’t change the world or affect your heart. Worshipping anywhere can do all of those things since we are spirits in the material world. It’s so good to share worship in person but we can still increase the connection between Heaven and earth worshipping on our own. Especially when we know who the Lord God Jesus Christ is and try to do what He says!

  2. Thank you for this thoughtful article.
    One of the good things to come out of the pandemic years, was the development of the technology that enabled church services to continue. And it became possible to sample many different services! I enjoy(ed) church “surfing”.

    But I have observed that what was lost was community, and the sense that I am doing my walk of life with others, and the sense that I am not alone. Observe the joy that people receive when they join any kind of volunteer effort to raise money or support for people they don’t even know. Being united in the common effort is uplifting and useful and joyful! Rubbing shoulders with friends and family and even strangers unifies us and brings us closer.

  3. As always, this is so good, Katya. Even if I wasn’t biased, I think I’d think that! 👍💖

  4. Thank you for these valuable insights, Katya. I believe the fellowship of in-person church is irreplaceable. I am in a group of Christian moms and it has been so good for me to connect with fellow Christians in the trenches of raising young children and it really doesn’t matter that they aren’t specifically in the New Church. What matters is that we get to “sing” (and sometimes cry) together twice a month.

  5. I love the picture you paint of your lovely church. And I think you are right that there are huge benefits of doing church together. I remember our minister pointing out to us that you shouldn’t really be going to church simply for your own benefit but for the benefit of each other as well. I wonder whether, for those who don’t have a New Church church nearby, you couldn’t do some of both – listen online for the truths you want to learn to live your life by, and also find a place to do the active side of church with other people. Much to think about there, and thank you for the thought-provoking article!

  6. For many years we were not near a New Church community so we had Church at home. But we also had many connections with other Christians and Jewish friends doing various community things together. During Covid when the online services increased I felt blessed to be able to “share” church with other New Church people first in Pittsburgh, then in Oak Arbor, MI and now with the Cathedral services online in Bryn Athyn. I sing with them and pray with them and find truths to guide my life with. I feel almost a part of those communities. I am still part of the local Methodist Church here in a fascinating Bible study. We had NC at home and attended the Methodist Church also. It was a happy combination. I don’t think I feel that the NC is just intellectual but rather that I find living truths there for my life. I believe what the Writings say about doctrine dividing but charity uniting.

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