An article on the internet this week makes reference to “hundreds if not thousands” of studies that have been done to explore connections between church attendance and health and longevity.
The findings are positive. For example, one study indicated that people who attend church regularly show lower stress in their lives and tend to live longer.
From infancy onward I was in church twice on Sunday with parents and sister. At 16 years of age, I tried to win freedom to make up my own mind about church attendance but my disciplinarian mother insisted that attending church was non-negotiable as long as I was at home.
Even after leaving home to work in another community I continued the practice into my late teens and young adulthood and then, of course, also during my years as a pastor and overseer. Throughout these years, gathering with God’s people on Sundays has been a joy.
Seven months ago, at age 91, I found myself in the hospital diagnosed with a smouldering form of leukemia. It took a few months to get back on my feet, and two setbacks interrupted my regular church attendance.
In those months I missed more Sundays than I attended. But the love to meet with God’s people in the worship of God in Christ remains unabated.
Last week, and again this week, we have reinstated our regular attendance. When our pastor begins the service with, “Let us stand for the call to worship,” I hear that call with greater intensity. I hear it as a summons to believers of diverse backgrounds, occupations, ages and ethnicities, to worship the Almighty — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — as one people.
We sang hymns and spiritual songs with fresh awareness. The prayers of the people were led by a layperson. Announcements were made to bring the congregation up to date on activities and interests; the children sang for us jubilantly; we presented our offerings, and the pastor gave a message from God on the power of Pentecost.
She had obviously spent significant time preparing it. As a pastor I had prepared fresh Sunday morning messages for many years. I knew the cost of preparation. I knew of the pastoral heart behind it. Her message was biblical. It was Christ-honoring.
There was something in it for me and I assume for others who had come to the gathering with their joys, perplexities or even sorrows. Anyone present who needed salvation would sense the call of the Spirit.
By the time the service was over, I felt in fresh touch with God my Creator and Sustainer of 91 years. The service was dismissed and there were handshakes and hugs. Worshipers showed evidence of joy as they dispersed.
Was this all really health-giving for me? For others in attendance? It appears that statisticians would say yes, and I would agree drawing on my own experience.
Jesus spoke to all people of all ages when he said, “For where two or three come together in my name there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). How inviting! How could public worship weekly giving thanks to God and shared with a company of his followers mean anything but health to both body and soul?
Photo credit: John Twohig (via flickr.com)