I was baptized in the Episcopal church when I was very young. For as long as I remember, I have belonged to a church of some sort: St. Joseph’s, St. Matthias, St. Bart’s, St. Francis House, Grace, Deaconess Anne House, Christ Church Cathedral, and now St. Mark’s. I served in the Episcopal Service Corps twice, in Syracuse and St. Louis. I have been on four church mission trips (Juarez, Gulfport, Milwaukee-Area, Belize) and one pilgrimage (Ireland). I studied the history of Christianity in college, completing a year-long senior honor’s thesis on 17th century protestant reformer John Calvin contrasted with his critic Jacobus Arminius. I worked for a year as paid youth group leader. I have preached sermons. When I was 20, I applied to begin an official discernment process with my diocese to determine if I could become a priest.
Why, exactly do I bother with all of this?
Almost all of my friends of faith I have are those I have met through church functions. My queer circles are unilaterally atheist, if not outrightly hostile to religion. Not just queer people, but church attendance among Generation X and Millennials, even Baby Boomers, has been on a decline for quite some time. In my mainline protestant faith tradition, we’ve been loosing something like 50,000 people a year. The average age of a congregant is in the upper 50s. Almost every major church function I have been to includes a discussion about this shrinkage, and has attempted to placate worries about “The Death of the Church.”
Why do I bother?
On the face of it, this question seems a little strange: if I really believe there is a God who created the world out of His Good Nature, who sent Their only begotten son Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Savior, then of course I would be part of the church, the opinions of others be damned, literately. This is the approach I think a lot of Christians take, but I don’t think this is the whole story of anybody’s faith. If you believe in orthodox, credal Christianity, I have to ask not just why do you believe what you do, but also why do you worship the way you do? A lot of evangelical christians will give extensive historical arguments for the inerrancy of the Bible and evidence for the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. I think these sorts of arguments miss the point: there is an emotional and communal reason we are part of a religious tradition. And more often than not, our theology comes after our modes of worship. In Anglicanism, we even have a term for that, Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, the way of worship is the way of belief.
I go to church because I like the community. I feel relief and value in the ancient language, rituals, and readings. I embrace the rhythms of structured prayer. I love the other-worldliness of chanted psalms and incense. I lean into the sincerity of the hymns. I connect to The Great Cloud of Witnesses when I take the Eucharist. I fall into a silence during the stations of the cross, and I see the whole of Creation light up when we ring the bells at the Easter Vigil.
I’ve tried to leave the church. I’ve read plenty of atheist articles and seen countless atheists destroy christians at college campus debates. It’s no matter: I keep coming back. What many atheists don’t always acknowledge is how my faith is not just this series of propositions that I assent to: my faith is my culture. My Anglican heritage is the only real cultural identity and tradition I have in our materialistic, individualistic, capitalist America. This tradition informs my political and personal views, challenging the narcissism of capitalist spirituality, and openly opposing the hegemonic culture of Empire. My religion is not just my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, it is how I relate to everything and everybody.
Thus, I find myself believing in God, the Trinity, the Promise of the Resurrection, the Gift of the Holy Spirit, maybe even the Assumption of Mary, largely because I go to church every week. And by believing in all of these things, I mean that I embrace this language, history, set of practices, and community as valuable and my central narrative for navigating the world. My faith helps me live, and that is why I believe.