I was riding the BART train from San Francisco to Berkeley the other day when I got a text from my sister Katie. "Can you remind me what you said that one time about lots of clergy not believing in God?" I waited until I got off the train and hit re-dial. I didn't know exactly what she was getting at, but it seemed unlikely that a text message would be sufficient to communicate the sensitivity and nuance that I felt an answer to her question deserved.
It turned out that Katie had found herself in conversation that week with several people--a friend, a patient, a neighbor--all of whom seemed to be deeply longing to return to church after however many years away. The problem was, they weren't sure they could go to church without being hypocritical, since they didn't really believe in God anymore. Apparently they assumed that belief (whatever that means to them) in God (whatever that means to them) is some sort of non-negotiable prerequisite for actively participating with integrity in the life of a Christian faith community.
Katie and I talked for about a half hour, at which point one of her kids started wailing in the background and she had to hang up. As she was hanging up, she threw in this quick request "Could you just put everything you said into a video or an essay or something? Because I'm never going to be able to remember what you said the next time it comes up."
It's taken me a few weeks, Katie, but here you go. Straight from the Pastor's mouth.
If you feel some sort of deep and persistent (or even vague and fleeting) desire to go to church, it is 100% permissible to go, even if you don't "believe in God." In fact, I'd say, you not only may, you probably should.
Because I believe that your desire is trustworthy and your desire is enough:
Because I believe that "Belief" is regularly misunderstood and vastly overrated:
Because I believe that church participation--in and of itself--has the potential to support the health and flourishing of individuals, families, society, and creation.
So if you find yourself among those who feel some little nagging curiosity, urge, or longing to go to church, I say: just do it! Don't worry too much about what you do or don't believe. For now, you can trust that your desire is enough. For now, you can trust that showing up is enough. (And if it turns out God is real, you can trust that S/He will take it from there.)
Rev. Dan Shutters
4/29/2019 07:10:45 am
I like the thoughts expressed here, especially in the paragraph that begins...."Even if it turns out" Somewhere, sometime, in conversations or in some other way, I will probably be using the substance of what you said....If I can remember, I will try to give you credit.
4/29/2019 10:41:57 am
Would you please share with me the source of the Mary Luti quote? Thanks!
4/29/2019 06:49:27 pm
Sure. It's from a Feasting on the Word Commentary-- "Feasting on the Gospels: Mark", Edited by Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson. Westminster John Knox Press, 2014. page 538 (pastoral perspective column)
Jo Ann Staebler
4/29/2019 01:41:42 pm
profoundly wise. I'm saving this one for sure.
5/1/2019 06:20:44 pm
I’d love to see this wonderful essay, the concept, about Jesus instead of God. I have a deep relationship (belief?!) with God but so thoroughly disbelieve in Jesus as the lord and savior that I can’t imagine going to any Jesus-centric church. Can we celebrate each other’s divinity in God without making it about one person (Jesus)?
5/2/2019 08:21:50 am
That's a great question....and I"m sure you're not the only one asking it!
5/2/2019 05:05:17 am
Betty Jo Boyer
5/2/2019 05:23:11 am
Is it possible for an e-mail of this excellent article to be sent to me? I would love to have it copied for our congregation.
5/2/2019 08:20:29 am
Hi Betty, you are welcome to copy and share the article. I don't have it in a word file, but could certainly copy and paste it into one for you if you'd like. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
5/6/2019 05:10:19 am
I enjoyed this article. I was hooked in by the title because I know of atheist who participate in church, but don't believe in divine being. Your article seemed to address more the agnostic than the atheist. I would be interested in your thoughts regarding the committed atheist attending church. Also I would like to hear more about clergy who don't believe in God, yet still serve. How does that work?
5/7/2019 09:31:42 am
Hi Mark. I agree that the article is aimed more at the agnostic than the confirmed atheist--although I guess that the third section (your life, your family, our world might be better because of church, even if God doesn't exist) might be applicable to both situations. I, too, have met folks who identify as atheists, but are still committed to church. I don't feel qualified to speak to their experience or perspective, but it would be interesting to put the two perspectives in conversation.
5/6/2019 08:31:36 am
Hi! I saw this shared on Facebook and it caught my attention. The points you make are exactly what we are trying to convey to our confirmands. I am going to share this with them! Beautifully written and so helpful.
5/7/2019 09:32:38 am
Hi Adam! I'm thrilled to hear that the article might be useful for your confirmands. All the best to you and your family from Donnel & me!
12/6/2022 03:46:58 pm
How can tach those the doing plight on good now fom Kelly Benson
5/18/2023 06:29:09 am
I was always a devout Christian until sometime in my 40s. It suddenly occurred to me one day then that I had no idea or concept whatever of anything the words "something wonderful and loving and intelligent called 'God' that created everything but the intelligent something that created everything but itself" meant. I realized I didn't know how to put together any thought of anything the sound "God" could mean. Not that I didn't want to, but just plain couldn't. But I never stopped going to church. I still go to church every Sunday because I have always sung in church choirs, and still do and have no reason to quit. I would never say anything I've said here to anybody I know. I say it here only because I can remain anonymous.
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My name is Sylvia Miller-Mutia, and I am a priest in the Episcopal Church. I have recently accepted an exciting call to serve as assisting clergy at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Albuquerque, NM with a focus on outreach, evangelism, and family ministry. I continue serving as "priest at large" for the larger church and wider world, assisting the people of God in whatever ways I can, and developing new resources for spiritual formation to share. Prior to my current call, I served as Rector (aka Pastor) of St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Albuquerque, NM (2015-2018), Assistant Rector at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, CA (2010-2015) and Pastoral Associate for Youth & Families at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Belvedere, CA (2002-2009). I am married to Donnel (grief counselor, couples coach, artist, best dad ever), and we have three awesome kids, ranging in age from 8-14.