Participation vs. Attendance

This pastoral passage was written for LRBC for July 1 2018.

Recently I came across a quote by the highly gifted 17th century theologian John Owen, from a sermon given during the later years of his life: “I had rather see a church filled with love a thousand times, than filled with the best, the highest, and the most glorious gifts.” The reason he said this was because he held that ‘it was mutual love, rather than extraordinary preaching, that would sustain the life of the congregation’ (Gribben bio., 250-51). To Owen’s mind, love was the means of communion with other members of the body, the church family, just as faith was the means of communion with the head, Jesus.

I have wondered if the way we practice church gatherings is too attendance-based to prompt much opportunity for meaningful fellowship and mutual love. What we have on a Sunday morning may (we hope!) be good, but it doesn’t require much more than passive involvement from us if we are not involved in the service. We arrive, sit, stand, sing, sit, listen, close eyes when someone prays on our behalf, pass on the bread and wine that someone else has silently passed on to you.

What we have is fine, but I would love to see a more active, participatory communal faith. Perhaps we could add or alter a few things. I enjoyed that we had to get up last Sunday to receive communion. It required us to assert our faith in way that is a little more active, and allowed us to rub shoulders with each other in the process.

It would be good for us to find ways to practice an active, participatory faith, and to kindle mutual love, so that we may encourage, uphold, motivate, warn, and enjoy each other so that the life of our congregation’s faith may not only continue but flourish. Would you be open and willing and plucky enough to step into a more communal, participatory engagement in your faith on a Sunday morning?