Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. What Would It Take? Volume 3,758

 

What would it take to get you back in the pews? I don’t want an argument about the existence of God. This post is for the “fallen away,” the backsliders, the indifferent, and uncommitted who otherwise believe God is out there and takes an interest in us.

I was in that camp for better than the first half of my life. In fact, I was a pretty strident atheist, believing religion was just a way for the patriarchy to get in our underwear, blah, blah, blah…

Having kids made a difference for me. And, that was before I knew my girls had serious health conditions. Something about being responsible for the next generation gave me pause about what I thought I knew. My political conversion to conservatism and religious reversion to (cradle-)Catholicism were gradual and coincidental.

First came my intellectual assent. I know some very smart people who say faith can’t be a matter of reason. I differ strongly. I figured if it was good enough for William F. Buckley and John Paul II (and, later, when I learned about Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine), maybe my comparatively little mind should give it a chance. I tried on a Christian denomination (Methodist), but, while I loved the people and felt welcomed, the lack of Sacraments didn’t suit me. I needed the full immersion of my senses — smells and bells.

I ended up in a large parish with a charismatic pastor who invited me to take up Bible study with a group of ladies on Tuesday mornings. I went in expecting to be underwhelmed by the experience. I thought, “none of these (older) gals were smart enough to be engineers (like me) and, so, they must be pretty simple-minded and have a simple faith.” The experience was humbling. Sure, there are some people of simple faith in Bible study, but that turned out to be inspiring in ways I couldn’t have imagined. And there was more than enough smarts and wisdom to go around. I couldn’t even find my way through the scripture references for the first two years, let alone put it all together in a way that made sense. These ladies had it down.

However, once it did start to come together for me, my intellectual assent strengthened. The concinnity of Catholic teaching on scripture was so impressive and harmonious, I stopped doubting (although, I didn’t stop questioning) and let the Church be my authority instead of claiming it for myself. End of step 1.

Then, life happened, and my need for God became urgent. I knew we might be in for some suffering when my youngest was born and we suspected she had Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (aka the Elephant Man disease). I had no idea just how much suffering we faced, and it’s not entirely over yet. Little Miss Anthrope’s brain tumor is still growing and she starts the new medication next week to try to shrink it. Prayers appreciated.

So now I’ve moved beyond assenting to the teachings to actual faith, in the sense of trusting God no matter the struggle. Jesus didn’t promise us a walk in the park — he told us to take up our crosses. Step 2 — trust in God to keep it real.

The reason for my writing this post is an interaction I recently had with an unintentionally estranged nephew (I have a lot of nieces and nephews — we don’t talk often). He put up a Facebook post in which he showed pictures of his three boys (twelve and under) receiving the Sacraments of Initiation in a church in Portugal. He asked his mom (one of my three sisters and three brothers) if any of his aunts and uncles still go to church. He was looking for godparents. I’m the only one out of the seven of us.

He explained his reversion came about after caring for his destitute mother-in-law while she was dying of cancer. He and his wife moved her into their home and saw her through to the end. It brought home to him the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. And he wanted his boys to have the faith of their fathers to help them face the inevitable. Step 3 — loyalty to religious heritage.

So, what might do it for you? I’m asking because I’m sad for my extended family (not that I doubt their salvation — that’s God’s turf) and for our civilization. Religion is hard because it makes moral demands. And because God makes moral demands, religion produces a better, stronger people. People who understand sacrifice and try to make the most out of suffering. People who are cognizant of and grateful to the faithful of previous generations. Religion provides a school of virtue, even though most every practitioner falls short at one time or another. Where do you get that in secular culture?

Why aren’t you going to church? Too busy? The kids need to get to soccer or hockey practice and who’s going to drive them? You just need a break from the hustle and bustle of work and life? C’mon. Give me a better reason.

Religious faith isn’t just between you and God. It’s a communal activity. We are formed and fortified by our time with God and each other. That’s why we have an obligation to attend church. At least, that’s what I believe. You? What would it take to get you back in the pews?

Published in General
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 51 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. E. Kent Golding Member

    Great Post. I am in the Pews ( sometimes enthusiastically, sometimes distractedly ), so this post is not for me.

    • #1
    • August 31, 2019, at 3:52 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  2. She Reagan
    SheJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Western Chauvinist: What would it take to get you back in the pews?

    Kindness.

    • #2
    • August 31, 2019, at 5:15 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  3. Stina Inactive

    What drove me out of the pews was neglect.

    I was a young and earnest Christian heading into college, and my priest didn’t know my name (let’s just ignore the fact I was an acolyte or in the choir for two services a week every week) and my youth minister was more interested in growing the youth through cool kids (which I was not).

    I was lonely and 4 years of lack of ministering saw me backslide at the end of college.

    I agree, community is of utmost importance. But how do you build that community?

    What brought me back was that community reaching out and embracing me fully and being just as earnest in their faith. As a young professional, I had spent 3 years floating from church to church, making a near solid commitment with one for about 6 months… that one I think failed because my only connection into the church were men and I was looking to them for mentoring when I really needed their wives to do it. I was not in a good place and I think I spooked them. Nothing improper happened (and it wouldn’t have), but I think they were trying to avoid that and ended up leaving me floundering (again). If they had directed their wives to me… or other older women… something, anything.

    What was I looking for? Wisdom, guidance, practical service advice or direction, companionship. Anything to get myself out of my mind and house.

    If I had to advise any church, I would say don’t neglect the young people who keep showing up to church. Just because they show up regularly doesn’t mean they have it together, especially in the summer months. Many times, they are lacking in family or friends, being new arrivals, and they are seeking connections.

    • #3
    • August 31, 2019, at 5:50 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  4. Barfly Member

    Good question. I’m thinking about it.

    • #4
    • August 31, 2019, at 5:56 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  5. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western ChauvinistJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    She (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist: What would it take to get you back in the pews?

    Kindness.

    As in “one small act?” c/o @drbastiat

    Seriously. I’m in Hillsdale for most of the month of September. I was walking the downtown to try to learn the place and came upon three ladies standing in front of city hall (county courthouse? still learning…). I made chitchat, asking, “What are you ladies doing out here?”

    “Encouraging people to read the Bible.” 

    “Really? Good work, if you can get it.”

    “Are you here as a student?” /Hillsdale either has a lot of older students or people are too polite to assume an age limitation

    “No, I have a student here.”

    “What year is she?”

    “It’s complicated, but she’s an older freshman. She was out on medical hiatus for a couple years until we figured out her condition.”

    “Oh, well, welcome to Hillsdale! We’re here all the time if you want to stop by.”

    Introductions all around.

    “We break for coffee at Checkers (the local student rock-n-roll hangout) if you want to join us sometime.”

    /Click

    Connection made. Friends in faith. God is good. He provides.

    • #5
    • August 31, 2019, at 6:37 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  6. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western ChauvinistJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Next story. I’m at the Jillybean Coffee shop (and, no, I do not drink a lot of coffee — in fact, I drink none! I’m a tea drinker). Two ladies approach the counter and are waiting for service. I initiate chitchat again — “Are you visiting the college?”

    First lady: “No, I’m here to see my sister (second lady).

    Second lady: “I’m the secretary over at the church.”

    Me: “The Catholic church across the way?”

    Second lady: “Yes!”

    Introductions again.

    Me: I’ll see you over there.

    She explains where to park and how to get into the sanctuary after the front doors are locked.

    I guess the moral of my story is you can’t wait to be knocked off your horse like St. Paul for a conversion moment (in the pretty painting anyway).

    You have to put yourself out there. Take a chance. Join something. Be the one to initiate the act of kindness, or, at least give someone the opportunity to be kind to you. This gets easier if you have two seriously ill daughters. 

    Getting through this life is a group effort. You know you’re well-matched with people when you make each other better by your relationship. It’s true in friendships, and it’s especially true in marriage!

    • #6
    • August 31, 2019, at 6:51 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  7. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    She (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist: What would it take to get you back in the pews?

    Kindness.

    There’s an adage I well remember from retail – a happy customer might win you another couple of customers, but a ticked off customer could easily cost you 5 or more.

    A welcoming and kind church, the type that does what it’s supposed to do and looks out for its own, is a wonderful thing. But many churches are not so great on that score. Either the clergy or the laity can be insular, judgmental, and neglectful of others, especially strangers.

    Stina (View Comment):

    What drove me out of the pews was neglect.

    I was a young and earnest Christian heading into college, and my priest didn’t know my name (let’s just ignore the fact I was an acolyte or in the choir for two services a week every week) and my youth minister was more interested in growing the youth through cool kids (which I was not).

    I was lonely and 4 years of lack of ministering saw me backslide at the end of college.

    I’ve been finding in the Orthodox world, assuming the priests are available (there’s a shortage), the optimum parish size is considered to be somewhere between 200 and 300 people. Above that and it is impossible that a priest is going to know everyone, much less be able to minister to everyone without losing his own sanity in the process. Once a parish approaches that upward limit, the bishop should be looking to assist the parishioners at splitting off a daughter church. That way everyone is known, and everyone can be cared for.

    There’s a podcast series out for the last year called We Are Orthodoxy, and it is a series of long-form interviews with young adults who are currently in, or once were in but have left the Orthodox church. It’s a great series, and I think the interviews are worth a listen even for those outside of Orthodoxy because the commonalities of why people stay or go are, I think, rather universal. For those who depart, yes doctrine is a major factor, but well before that becomes an issue you instead see patterns of neglect, unkindness, burn-out, and being let down by the people during crises.

    • #7
    • August 31, 2019, at 7:46 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  8. MarciN Member

    Great post on an important issue.

    • #8
    • August 31, 2019, at 7:57 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  9. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVeyJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Good question. I’m thinking about it.

    I have to chime in with Barfly. I bet we’re not the only ones who’ve come back to this post again and again today–well, yesterday. Thanks, Westy! One of the most important questions that can be posed on Ricochet, or in life.

    Glad to see some smart, kind thoughts from @skipsul, Stina, MarcIN and She as they weigh in on this.

    • #9
    • September 1, 2019, at 1:47 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  10. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVeyJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Oops, sorry, E. Kent! Should have included you. 

    • #10
    • September 1, 2019, at 1:50 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. Old Buckeye Inactive

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    You have to put yourself out there.

    I’m solidly in the pews, but I would agree that this is a major part of staying there. You can attend a church or you can belong to a church. I’ve moved around the country quite a bit, requiring joining new parishes. When I didn’t wait for others to come to me, it was much easier to feel integrated sooner.

    • #11
    • September 1, 2019, at 4:26 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  12. Eridemus Coolidge

    Great question many churches would like to find an answer for. The one where I am a pianist (not full member since I feel I can’t give more time that what the music preparation takes out of me) is going to start a group study soon of the book “Flickering Lamps” to address this stagnation. I have observed that the older people stay faithfull but are just disappearing for normal life limitation reasons. Unfortunately a few of the middle aged people who often are the load-carriers have tended to “shop” and leave because they sense other members don’t share their (liberal) politics. I’m not sure they have found another home that suits them even yet (following on Facebook out of curiosity). Oddly enough, some more liberal young people have tended to stay and there isn’t some big program for them; they just don’t demand uniformity, or want to continue being there with parents.

    • #12
    • September 1, 2019, at 6:58 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. Dr. Jimmy Carter Member
    Dr. Jimmy CarterJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I was an “atheist” 24 years ago when God knocked Me upside the head (long story). I thought I would find a church to call Home. I attended quite a few and every one of Them gave Me the same feeling: the people came across to Me a fake as all get out. My thoughts were always, “Surely You ain’t like this in the real world.” Every one of ’em gave Me the creeps. 

    I’ll probably never step foot in another. 

    • #13
    • September 1, 2019, at 7:50 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western ChauvinistJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    I was an “atheist” 24 years ago when God knocked Me upside the head (long story). I thought I would find a church to call Home. I attended quite a few and every one of Them gave Me the same feeling: the people came across to Me a fake as all get out. My thoughts were always, “Surely You ain’t like this in the real world.” Every one of ’em gave Me the creeps.

    I’ll probably never step foot in another.

    Can’t “Like” this one, Jimmuh. Sorry you had bad experiences. But, here’s the thing — maybe it’s not about the vibe you receive so much as the vibe you give off.

    Today’s Gospel reading was from Luke when Jesus exhorts us to give without expectation of receiving back (don’t take the high status seat at the banquet; when you throw a banquet, invite the poor who can’t repay you). It’s not what you get out of the experience that matters — it’s your presence for others. Because, as C.S. Lewis said, “you’ve never met a mere mortal.” We’re in this together eternally, one way or another. Might as well get in there with all the other fakers and sinners and do your part. 

    • #14
    • September 1, 2019, at 8:07 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. MeandurΦ Member
    MeandurΦJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I think I’ve been ready, but my wife isn’t. I will attend when she is ready.

    • #15
    • September 1, 2019, at 9:24 AM PDT
    • Like
  16. TheRightNurse Member

    Ugh. The eternal question. I want to go back to church….kinda. I feel that hole in my life. At the same time that I feel it, I’m not ready to fill it with the church I had before. It is definitely difficult to go back to the church when you have the same problems with the Organization as I have. The Catholic church, as a whole, is not very welcoming. Francis is not my favorite pope to say the least, and the political crap that I get at church is not worth it. It does mean not practicing the Sacraments, but until I find a place where I feel welcome and I’m not hugely in conflict with the bureaucracy, I’m not going.

    If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times. I’m not going to Confession when I’m not sorry. I’m not going to make a mockery of the Sacraments when I’m not spiritually ready to get with them. I think that’s one of the largest disservices we can do the Church.

     

     

    • #16
    • September 1, 2019, at 11:03 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  17. E. Kent Golding Member

    I have never attended a perfect church where everyone was kind and agreed with me. I have attended a few churches where a minority was both much kinder and much wiser than I was. You will never find a perfect church or perfect congregation. Jesus said the sick needed and welcomed a physician, those that thought they were healthy didn’t. I am grumpy enough to be annoyed at most Church’s I attended.

    • #17
    • September 1, 2019, at 12:53 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  18. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western ChauvinistJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    E. Kent Golding (View Comment):

    I have never attended a perfect church where everyone was kind and agreed with me. I have attended a few churches where a minority was both much kinder and much wiser than I was. You will never find a perfect church or perfect congregation. Jesus said the sick needed and welcomed a physician, those that thought they were healthy didn’t. I am grumpy enough to be annoyed at most Church’s I attended.

    There’s always something to criticize. At this morning’s Mass here in Hillsdale, the priest’s homily was about how precious every last one of us is as made in the image and likeness of God. He did great up until he felt the need to admonish “all sides” and picked on the law-and-order immigration advocates as “laughing” at people dying to get into this country. That’s a total straw man, and if I have the chance, I might bring it up to him. Meanwhile the “other side” gets mentioned for supporting abortion and euthanasia, which happens to be true. False equivalencies like this irk me. Nobody’s laughing at people dying at the border. 

    But! I’m not there to find political agreement. I’m there to add my voice to the heavenly chorus praising the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. To make God happy by the communal expression of love and to receive the Real Presence He wants to give us. 

    That’s also the attitude I try to cultivate about confession. Jesus is waiting to forgive us. He’s so pleased when we confess and repent so that He can accomplish what He lived and died for. And, if nothing else, I can always confess to failing to love as He does. I haven’t laid down my life yet. And I still haven’t become the person He made me to be. 

    • #18
    • September 1, 2019, at 1:18 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  19. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    I was an “atheist” 24 years ago when God knocked Me upside the head (long story). I thought I would find a church to call Home. I attended quite a few and every one of Them gave Me the same feeling: the people came across to Me a fake as all get out. My thoughts were always, “Surely You ain’t like this in the real world.” Every one of ’em gave Me the creeps.

    I’ll probably never step foot in another.

    Well, the thing is we’re all hypocrites I suppose. We all fall short. It’s easy to put your best foot forward in church, leave after worship with a warm glow, and then yell at your cat when you get home.

    WC addressed this already somewhat, but really just your own being there matters a great deal.

    One of the things I’ve grown to dearly love in the Orthodox churches is that being in church really doesn’t demand much of you (and that includes arriving “on time” – people straggle in as they can). The liturgy certainly does not make demands of you the way some relentlessly upbeat and emotional songs might do in other churches – you come as you are, you sing or you don’t (the choirs are always either in the back or off to one side – heard and not seen), you can hide in the back and be left alone if you want. There is none of the forced “happiness” from song leaders, no false mask you have to don get through – just come as you are and be there. And then stay afterwards for the coffee hour where people share in a meal, or at least coffee and donuts, and just talk, drifting out to go home as they wish.

    But they take you as you are.

    • #19
    • September 1, 2019, at 1:31 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  20. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    MeanDurphy (View Comment):

    I think I’ve been ready, but my wife isn’t. I will attend when she is ready.

    I’ve seen some situations where one spouse going regularly and faithfully may help the other to be ready.

    • #20
    • September 1, 2019, at 1:34 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  21. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph StankoJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Western Chauvinist: Why aren’t you going to church? Too busy? The kids need to get to soccer or hockey practice and who’s going to drive them?

    When did this stuff start getting scheduled on Sundays? This strikes me as a major shift in the culture that happened sometime since my youth. I played soccer, we had practice on weeknights and games on Saturdays. I was in Cub Scouts as well, I don’t ever remember a single youth activity scheduled on a Sunday that would have conflicted with Mass.

    We’ve lost the shared cultural acknowledgement of Sunday as the Lord’s Day.

    • #21
    • September 1, 2019, at 1:56 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  22. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western ChauvinistJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    MeanDurphy (View Comment):

    I think I’ve been ready, but my wife isn’t. I will attend when she is ready.

    I’ve seen some situations where one spouse going regularly and faithfully may help the other to be ready.

    Most of the big-name Catholic apologists I know of who converted from being a Protestant minister to lay Catholic came into the Church before their wives: Scott Hahn for sure. Maybe Jeff Cavins and Tim Staples, too. It’s common for one spouse to go before the other, and typically the man goes first. 

     

    • #22
    • September 1, 2019, at 2:16 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  23. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    MeanDurphy (View Comment):

    I think I’ve been ready, but my wife isn’t. I will attend when she is ready.

    I’ve seen some situations where one spouse going regularly and faithfully may help the other to be ready.

    Most of the big-name Catholic apologists I know of who converted from being a Protestant minister to lay Catholic came into the Church before their wives: Scott Hahn for sure. Maybe Jeff Cavins and Tim Staples, too. It’s common for one spouse to go before the other, and typically the man goes first.

     

    There are a lot of early church writings in the 200s counseling wives to be faithful church goers when their husbands are pagan. The Roman Empire in the 200s was in something of a demographic crisis, according to some recent research, due to various health and military crises, and the accumulated effects of killing infant daughters (India, China, take note), so men were increasingly willing to take Christian women as brides, even with the associated social stigmas and persecution risks. So at this time in history, Christian wives were the ones bringing their husbands in.

    • #23
    • September 1, 2019, at 2:22 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  24. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist: Why aren’t you going to church? Too busy? The kids need to get to soccer or hockey practice and who’s going to drive them?

    When did this stuff start getting scheduled on Sundays? This strikes me as a major shift in the culture that happened sometime since my youth. I played soccer, we had practice on weeknights and games on Saturdays. I was in Cub Scouts as well, I don’t ever remember a single youth activity scheduled on a Sunday that would have conflicted with Mass.

    We’ve lost the shared cultural acknowledgement of Sunday as the Lord’s Day.

    I’ve been wondering this myself. A family at my church has had to deal with swim meets even being on Sundays during the summer months, and this has been so since the late 90s.

    It’s not just a loss of the Lord’s Day, but the loss of free time for families.

    • #24
    • September 1, 2019, at 2:24 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  25. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph StankoJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Old Buckeye (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    You have to put yourself out there.

    I’m solidly in the pews, but I would agree that this is a major part of staying there. You can attend a church or you can belong to a church. I’ve moved around the country quite a bit, requiring joining new parishes. When I didn’t wait for others to come to me, it was much easier to feel integrated sooner.

    I must admit I’m guilty of this, I attend Mass weekly but with the same attitude I attend a movie, concert, or ball game: I don’t know the folks sitting next to me, and they don’t know me. 

    Mea maxima culpa. 

    • #25
    • September 1, 2019, at 2:51 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member