I was thinking, this morning during sacrament meeting, of two of the good things that come from attending and participating in church.
1. Doing so engenders a strong and genuine sense of community and mutual caring.
In today’s urban centers and, increasingly, even in suburbia, we don’t know our neighbors. Voluntary associations like the Masons, the Elks, the Optimists, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Optimists, and the Rotary Club are apparently declining in numbers. Dual-paycheck parents have reduced time and energy for socializing with other dual-paycheck parents. More married couples are delaying or reducing or altogether not having families, which eliminates one of the main things — children — that bring adults together. Many young men and women are delaying marriage, or even foregoing it altogether, and, if they live together, these often tend to be serial relationships, impermanent and even short-lived. We’re highly mobile, and we rarely live, any more, with significant networks of extended family (with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins close at hand and important).
Many now seek to find ersatz community in the virtual company of strangers on the Internet, which seems unlikely to be permanently fulfilling in the long term. Online dating services have arisen to help us cope with other implications of the current poverty of natural relationships.
Accordingly, we run the risk of becoming, in the Harvard sociologist David Riesman’s memorable phrase, a “lonely crowd.”
There’s a large literature on this sort of thing, including such books as Robert Bellah’s Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (1996) and Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000). It isn’t altogether healthy.
By being active participants in the community of the Church, we become part of a large network of good, caring, mutually supportive people. We’re no longer social atoms.
2. Related to (1), but not the same thing, is the fact that attending church gives us the opportunity to sing.
This may seem a small thing, and, to more than a few, it probably is. For others, though, it deinitely isn’t. Without going to church, most people have little or no regular opportunity for group singing, and particularly for relatively serious choral singing. What was once a common thing in American life is dying out — and listening to your iPod while walking along in your own isolated bubble probably isn’t an adequate substitute.