December 24, 2013

Sabbath Insecurity

The latest theory about the chronic (and nearly universal) decline in Average Sunday Attendance is that not only are we not attracting very many new people to our churches, the people we’ve already got are coming less often. I don’t study church attendance, but the

 theory matches my experience as a parish priest.

Many of my colleagues have responded with impassioned, well-reasoned and theologically sound defenses of the importance of weekly (or at least very regular) church attendance. “Church needs you!” we are told. And it does.

But I wonder if we’re missing the diagnosis. I’m not sure that people don’t get the importance of being in church. I’m not sure that they don’t see the benefits of worship and fellowship. I suspect we are suffering from a massive, collective case of sabbath insecurity.

If you’ve known people who have grown up with food insecurity -- or have experienced it yourself -- you know that it leaves behind a legacy of anxiety. Knowing that you’re going to need to eat (and who isn’t?) raises the question of whether there will be food. Even years into a more prosperous phase of life, hunger and anxiety often go together for people who know what it is to go without.

We need Sabbath. We need rest. We need a break from the ever-accelerating rhythms of our lives. All of us. And most of us have lived the last decade or more without getting enough Sabbath. Sometimes we manage to carve it out, but too often, the space just isn’t there. We are chronically Sabbath insecure. When the chance to rest comes along, we need it so badly that it trumps everything else.

For the Sabbath insecure, it doesn’t help to hear that church needs you to be there. It doesn’t help to hear that you have much to offer. If what you need most in your life not to be needed -- if only for a few hours -- not to have anywhere to go, anything to get ready for, then Sunday morning church will lose out. And maybe it should.