A few weeks ago, the Episcopal Café posted a study that showed that religious people are healthier. This is not a surprise.
People do better connected to other people. We are social creatures. And if you are connected, you can’t do “them vs us”, because you know Them. If you aren’t connected, it’s easy to segregate, balkanize, fractionate. And it’s stressful to do that.
A book published a few years ago, called Bowling Alone decried the loss of community in modern American society. It used to be that you Belonged to something. Not just church, but your Club, or your Bowling League, or something else that took you out from the cocoon of your life and echo chamber of your social class. That doesn’t happen now much, outside of church.
SO why are religious people healthier? I posit it is because of the effects of community—and the old bowling leagues, or neighborhood groups, would have showed the same effect.
One thing I’ve noticed since I started going to church with BP is the community effect. BP describes getting to know me as “dragging you out from under a rock” because I am by nature compulsively private and unwilling to reach out. My background is stiff-upper-lip English and German —emotion is weakness. I told her that one of the things I notice about going to church every week is how vulnerable it makes you. The carefully constructed shell that I have built, chips away. I’m not easy with that, but I’m getting better.
Think about it. The clergy know what’s going on with you in a deeply personal way. You don’t have a mask with someone who may have advised you through something very private and whom you still see every week. Like the obligatory counseling we went through for our Blessing: the wonderful priest who led that, knows a lot that is very personal about us and might make me blush! But I look forward to seeing her on Sunday nonetheless. During the Prayers of the People, you hear who’s asking for prayers, and you think “Oh, dear. I didn’t know H’s mom died” or “that’s bad. I wonder if M’s cancer is back” and at coffee you look for them for a hug, or an informal casserole committee. BP grew up with this everyone-knows kind of thing, and finds the community family to be a warm, supportive blanket. She gives me a quizzical look that I’m still getting used to this openness and exposure.
As you know, my Dad died on Tuesday. You, my internet church friends, have sent your prayers and virtual hugs, which are very welcome as an expression of your love. Dad would have appreciated that; he still identified as a Roman Catholic (although he didn't really practice). We’ll be with mom this weekend, 500 miles away from our home, when they read his name out at St Paul’s in the prayers for the dead. Our real life church friends will look for us at coffee to give us a hug. They will join us and you in that essential aspect of mourning even at a distance. It’s the community aspect that I have learned to value from you all. Thank you.