Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Church & Religion

This could be such a huge subject so I will try to keep my focus fairly narrow so this blog entry dosn't turn into a book.

I talked about spirituality in my last post and what it means to me from a non-religious point of view. This time I would like to talk about spirituality from a religious point of view. I am by no means an expert on this so I will just stick to relating through my own experiences.

In my childhood, I was brought up to believe in God. That has been something that has stayed with me all my life. I have had doubts of course. There have been times when things have gone bad and I wondered how this could be allowed to happen. But as I have grown up and my understanding of things has matured, I have come to believe that what we do and what happens is ultimately up to us.

When I was still quite young, my grandmother passed away. At the time, my mother was pregnant. There was a lot of talk about  whether the baby would be a boy or a girl. To me, a 9-year old at the time, I didn't understand why people were even questioning this. The baby would be a girl of course. Grandma had just passed away so it only made sense to me that the baby would be a girl. And, no surprise to me, I have a sister.

Tonight I attended an early Christmas Eve service. When I looked around me, I saw a church that was about half full. There were no more than 10 children and most people there were a fair bit older than me. What does this say about the future of this church and many others? Where does religion fit in our lives these days?

What I heard at the seravice was someone reading from a book that had been read aloud so many times that the words seemed to be robotic and no longer held any feeling or meaning. When I go to church, I want to understand what is going on and I want to feel something about being there - something in my heart. I didn't feel that. I felt very little. The people around me looked like they were there because they felt obligated to be there.

A little over 20 years ago I was fortunate enough to be involved in a church that was like none other I had ever come across. The congregation of this church were giving beyond belief, caring and supportive. There seemed to be no preconceptions about anyone or even any other religion.

Upon joining this congregation, my family and I were welcomed with open arms. Over the course of a few years I became quite involved in the life of the church. I started out as an adult server. I then became responsible for training the student servers. After a few months of doing this, I was asked if I would lead the youth group. A year later, I was honoured to be asked to join the church council and become a chalice bearer.

As I got more and more involved, these people continually amazed me with their caring and giving attitude. Here was a group of people whose primary concern was what they could do to help through outreach to the community and through charitable organizations that were in involved in places like Africa. It seemed to me that as we took care of the things that really mattered, everyday things like building maintenance fell into place with just a bit of extra organization. My time with this church was one of the best experiences of my life.

When I moved to another town quite some distance away, one of the first things I did was to find a church and present a letter from my old church council and offer my services to do whatever I could to help. It seemed at first that this was going to be appreciated. Sadly, it didn't take long before I discovered that the main focus of this church seemed to be the building itself. I also quickly found that new ideas were not welcome - there was a way things had been done for years and there was no good reason to change them now. To top this all off, it was in this church that I first came across the syndrome, "THIS IS THE WAY AND THE ONLY WAY". It was not long after this that I left this church and did not go back.

The one thing that has always bothered me the most has been those people who say that THIS is the way. My question for them has always been, Who told you?? The answers I have gotten when I have gotten any at all have been things like, "How can it be any other way?" or my favourite, "I just know." I would like to know where they get their information from. Again I have to say, "Who told you?"
For myself, I have decided that the best policy is to keep an open mind. Over the last few years, through reading, from other people and from personal experience, I have come to believe in a bit of a mixed bag of things. I don't believe that I am one of those people that say, THIS IS THE WAY.

Is this what is happening to religion today? Is relegion dying out? What can be done to draw people back to the church? Maybe people are finding their way in a different way these days rather than the old traditional religions. Maybe people are finding their spirituality in other ways. Maybe they are finding it from within their own hearts. Maybe this is where we should start from in the first place.
I guess you can take the topic of religion in just about any direction. I am quite comfortable with where my belief system is right now but I think that I have an open mind about things. I will alway be revisiting this subject many times in my own mind and thinking about what religion means to me.

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