Not long ago I was having a conversation with a college student. Like many young adults, this guy was a religious "none." He wasn't some sort of jaded post-religious person, but he also wasn't actively trying to find a religious home.
Despite his state of self-described religious none-ness, this student pursued conversations about spiritual things. And, as expressed by many students I talk with, he found my commitment to "traditional religion" quite curious.
He asked, "I mean, I get why you're into 'being spiritual' and 'helping people' and everything, but why bother with Church? I just don't get that part. Do you really think you need it?"
He went on to describe how irrelevant the Church was. In his view, all the Church once provided can be found elsewhere in civic life. From community service projects to book clubs; from outreach to the poor to potlucks; from meditation groups to support groups, he described the many other places that provide much of what the Church used to (and occasionally still does) provide.
I did my best to listen.
And you know what I concluded? He was, at least in part, right. If the Church is only what he described (a sort of glorified community center or service provider), it is a wonder anyone shows up.
I began to seriously ask myself, do I really need Church?
Why don't I just hit the bagel shop, join another yoga class, buy some more U2 tickets (you know, for a little transcendence) and volunteer at a soup kitchen every once in awhile?
Why bother with Church at all?
After giving it much consideration, I've decided that there is at least one very good reason why I need Church: I have a really bad memory.
It's true. I have a terrible memory. Especially when it comes to remembering who I am as a child of God. Especially when it comes to remembering what God has done, and continues to do, in and through Jesus Christ.
I forget who I am. I forget who God is. I forget God's Epic Story of Redemption and Liberation and Renewal and Beauty and Hope.
I forget. A lot.
On top of that, there are a gazillion other demands and voices that are vying for my attention all the freaking time.
So I admit it. I get tired. And I get distracted. And more often than not, I forget.
I need Church, because Church reminds me of everything that's important.
And when I say Church, I'm not talking about a building. I mean the people. I'm referring to the organic, collective, flesh and blood Body of Christ. I'm talking about the beautiful but undeniably imperfect community of people who help me remember who I am, and to Whom I belong, over and over again.
But don't get me wrong.
I still love piping hot Sunday morning bagels. Preferably with veggie cream cheese. But more than that, I need to be fed by the Bread of Life.
I still practice yoga and I'm enormously grateful for its presence in my life. But it's no replacement for hearing God's Story, read and proclaimed, week after week.
I absolutely love the adrenaline-pumping-bass-thumping-heart-pulsing intensity of a good rock concert. For me, it really can be a transcendent experience. But I still sing the old hymns of the Church that have sustained followers of Jesus for generations.
Seriously. Please don't misunderstand me.
I still think service projects are (usually) good and important. But I find it better to serve others with an eye toward long-term, institutional, sustainable, biblically inspired justice-making and peace-keeping.
I'll be the first to say I discover God's Spirit working in and through the wonders of creation. But I still need to worship the Creator and be reminded that all good things come from God.
And while I continue to love a good book club, it's no substitution for a good old fashioned bible study. No fancy gimmicks or cartoony "bible companions" required.
So, do I need Church? You better believe it. I need Church for many reasons, but mostly because I have a really bad memory. If you do too, maybe I'll see you some Sunday morning. I'll even treat you to a bagel after the service. Just remind me.