Yes, it’s that time of year. The weather warms up and all across America, school gets out, people go on vacation, and churches empty out. Young children everywhere play that game with their hands: “Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, where are all the people!?”
It’s different in places like Martha’s Vineyard or Key West or Kennebunkport where congregations swell with the summer population. But for the rest of us attendance drops off dramatically. The relaxed nature of summer church can be a welcome change to the break-neck pace of the program year -- for both clergy and laity alike. But it can also border on depressing if there's a corresponding lack of energy and passion.
Last week I identified “10 Advantages of Summer Church.” This week I’m updating last year’s list of “The Top Ten Reasons NOT to Go to Church This Summer.” Rather than ignore this trend I thought I’d help everyone justify opting out of church for the summer. So as we officially mark the first day of summer, here we go:
1. It’s Not Air-Conditioned
True. But I believe Jesus said to the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Won’t you sweat with me one hour?” Or something to that effect (I realize recent scholarship suggests he may have been speaking directly to priests who think it's okay not to wear a chasuble during the summer). Plus bulletins make terrific personal fans. If you’re lucky, your spouse/child/pew mate/random visitor will make you feel like Pharaoh by fanning you throughout the service. I keep waiting for a father-of-the-bride to donate air-conditioning for the church in time for his daughter’s August wedding. It hasn’t happened yet but there’s a brass plaque I’m just itching to put on an air duct in honor of said family.
2. I Have a Boat
Of course you do. If you live on the South Shore of Boston like I do, everyone seems to own a boat. Boats are great – Jesus spent a lot of time on boats since his disciples were mostly fishermen. He preached from them, calmed storms in them, and walked on water towards them. Come to church this summer before launching your boat and I guarantee you’ll hear at least one Biblical story involving boats and/or water. [Note to my friends in the Heartland: ignore this one or substitute "RV" for "boat"].
3. The Lawn Needs Mowing
What, your teenager isn’t mowing your lawn just to pitch in around the house and demonstrate his/her love for you? Mowing your lawn on Sunday morning is a sure way to annoy the neighbors. And when you want to add that mother-in-law suite onto the back of the house you sure want their support when petitioning the town. Don’t risk it; come to church and save the lawn for later.
4. The Kids Have a Game in Duxbury
Or wherever. Summer travel teams are both fun and time-consuming. I've personally spent much of my time the last several years on mosquito-infested fields from Marshfield toRockland. When games take place on Sunday mornings tell the kids about Sandy Koufax. The Dodger great refused to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it was Yom Kippur. He stood up for his faith and his team still won the championship. They won’t like it but it will make a lasting impression.
5. There’s Church in the Summer?
Yup. Every Sunday morning just like the rest of the year. God never takes a vacation which is simply more proof that God is not French.
6. I’m Away for the Weekend
That’s great – I hope you have a relaxing time. And I bet there is even a small Episcopal church nearby. Look for one of those red, white, and blue “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” signs or use Google and your GPS to guide you into a pew on Sunday morning. You don't even have to behave well since it's not your church -- sigh loudly when you don't like a point in the sermon (a la Scott Gunn); scoff when the collection plate goes by; don't take a shower.
7. There’s No Church School
You can’t teach kids to eat out in a restaurant if you never take them to one. The same holds true for appropriate church behavior. As for older kids who are “bored” during the service, send them to the acolyte master (assuming he/she is around during the summer) to get suited up for some gentle on-the-job training. The summer is a great time to learn the acolyting ropes. At St. John's we're bucking this trend by offering a summer church school program called Animal Crackers put together by Heifer International. If it's nice outside, we'll even meet in the church courtyard.
8. I Gave up Summer Church for Lent
I don’t believe that’s an “approved” Lenten discipline. But if you’re simply not in the habit of going to church in the summer, this is the year to break it! Amaze and inspire your friends as you receive the spiritual refreshment that comes with regular church attendance. Don’t be surprised if people start coming up to you and saying, “You look great! Have you lost weight?” And you’ll be able to respond with “I look fabulous because I’ve been going to church during the summer.”
9. I’d Rather be Outside
Well, we’ll be sure to keep the windows open so you can see the beauty of the earth from your pew. Maybe we’ll move Coffee Hour outdoors on nice days but the good news is you won’t need to put on sunscreen before church. And, as far as I know, no one has been eaten by black flies during the liturgy.
10. I Have a 9:00 am Tee Time
Perfect. Come to the 8 o’clock service. The 37 minutes you spend in church might even help your game. The 8 o’clock is actually a great option during the summer for people who want to get a jump on the day, get out to the beach, take a hike, go boating or whatever. You can experience the beauty of Elizabethan English and then speak to one another in thee’s and thou’s the rest of the day.
I hope you’ve found a good reason in this list to stay away from church until after Labor Day. But if not, enjoy worshiping the risen Christ throughout the summer months and may the days ahead be a time of rest, refreshment, and relaxation.
#11. I'm going to the Diocesan Summer Ministries School and Retreat. Oh, wait, that IS church, daily offices, the bishop at Eucharist, and 20 young people for a lock-in, choir camp good time. Life is good in Iowa, even without boats.
Our rector in Pennsylvania used to sing "If ever I would leave you, it would not be in summer" to shame summer church skippers. Personally I don't understand why anyone would want to miss all those cool ordinary time gospels. It's Mark this year too. #Bunchaloosers
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