I once had a parishioner who taught me a lesson about going to church, at least at times other than Sunday morning. It was a frustrating lesson for me to learn as a young priest at the time.
I was trying to revive the parish’s Sunday school program, which had been somewhat neglected over the years. I was trying to grow the place, and a Christian formation strategy seemed important to me—give people a reason to want their children to be in church and to want to be there themselves, I figured.
So one day I held a teacher training. I went to a lot of trouble to make it worth coming to. I think it was on a Saturday morning, or maybe it was a weekday evening, anyway on some non-church-going time. I was busy scurrying around making sure everyone had what they needed and had been promised. A mover and shaker in the congregation, who happened to have two children, and herself a very sweet person, was just joining the group. As I went off to the supply room for something, I heard her say, thinking I was safely out of hearing range, “He’s got to realize that we live on the water and have better things to do than come to church.”
At first I was mad. Then I began to think it symptomatic of the problem. Eventually I saw it as funny (which is the point at which I became open to insight). Finally, I learned something important.
She was, of course, right, at least in a way. Christians do have something better to do that come to church. Lots of things. Or at least I’ve come to hope so.
After Jesus had been taken up into heaven, the disciples “were continually in the Temple blessing God.” (Lk. 24:53) I wish they could have talked to my former parishioner. Didn’t they have anything better to do than to come to church?
To be fair, I guess that with everything they had witnessed in the preceding weeks, taking time to go to church and sort things out could have been very much in order. And, there’s a subplot to going to the Temple daily in context. It was the Temple leadership who had been responsible for the persecution and death of Jesus, who had just been vindicated by his resurrection and ascension. Being in the Temple was precisely the place to be to begin upsetting the apple cart again.
Still, a disciples’ work is mostly outside the doors, even as my parishioner thought, on the water. That is, after all, where people go to fish.