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Why We Don't Just Need Community, We Need Church

Feb 18 2014
In our own sacred spaces and circles of friends, we can’t recreate the body of Christ.

A Church Like No Place Else

Caryn Rivadeneira

These are the holiest places I know: the Eagle Trail, in Peninsula State Park, Ephraim, Wisconsin; the woods that wind around a creek near my house; our town's public library, the Art Institute of Chicago.

I've been so overwhelmed by the presence of God in these places that I've nearly fallen to my knees, kissed the holy ground in each of them. Mostly, I offer a mental genuflect or lift my arms away from my sides, turn my palms toward heaven and think thanks to the God of woods and water and books and paintings. Of the God who offers us is creation and who lets us create alongside him.

Which is why I often get dizzy with the Spirit while sitting at my laptop cranking out an article or a chapter or a proposal. I hear God when laughing with colleagues, when brainstorming ideas. Work is worship for me. Always has been. Lord-willing, always will be.

I tell you this because when I read Donald Miller's recent piece I Don't Worship God by Singing. I Connect With Him Elsewhere, though I could hear the backlash a-comin' for him, I got it. I knew exactly what he meant: that he worships best through work, that he connects to God in nature.

And yet, I'm super pro-church. Pro-"Every Sunday Butt in Pews" Church. Pro-"Sing Beside Folks Who've Hurt You And Are Hurting" Church. Partly because Jesus made collective worship his "custom," as our pastor recently reminded us. Partly because although my bones may not feel like going to church many Sundays, church offers something nowhere else can: not the woods, not the library, not the sheer cliffs on the trail above Nicolet Bay, not even the Art Institute. A Sunday morning at church offers what A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte cannot. Well, not completely.

In libraries and parks and museums, I can marvel at our Creator; I can shiver at his goodness; I can beat out my laments in angry stomps along trails; I can get lost in the created images and words and catch glimpses of Imago Dei along the way. I can worship; I can feel; I can ask. I can learn.

But not like I can in church.

Miller begins with a confession that he doesn't "connect with God by singing to Him. Not at all." Fair enough. But here's my confession: Singing has always been my favorite part of church not because we're singing to God, but because we sing with one another, for God.

When we sing in church, we join voices—all of us, the happy, the sad, the rich, the broke, the healthy, the sick, the faithful, the doubters, the straight-and-narrow-ers, the wanderers, the popular, the lonely—and profess words we'd never otherwise say together.

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