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.)
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.