I probably should not admit it in public, but I skipped church today.
I was not alone. I was joined by 13,078 of my friends. Well they are not quite all my friends. I actually probably only know about fifty of them. We came in all ages, all shapes, all sizes, a variety of colours. Some were in wheelchairs, some pushed strollers; I saw one who was wearing a shoulder immobilizer.
Under normal circumstances, if a crowd of 13,000 people is anywhere on the horizon, I would be the first to head in the opposite direction. But this morning I was drawn into this mass of humanity by one thing we all had in common. We were all determined this morning to cover ten kilometers through Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park, along the Dallas Road waterfront ending in town at the Legislative Buildings.
Some of us covered the distance at a sprint, some at more of a plod, some walked and ran, some just walked, and a few spun the wheels on their chairs. This was the twenty-first annual Times Colonist 10K, the second largest road race in all of Canada and this year, the largest ever in Victoria.
It is an extraordinary community undertaking. I cannot begin to imagine the hours of preparation that must go into orchestrating this event. From my limited perspective, the feat of getting 13,000 people from the beginning of the Run/Walk to the end seemed to operate as smoothly as a family-walk in the park.
I imagine only a tiny minority of participants in today’s event thought of themselves as skipping church. For the majority I am sure that a beautiful Sunday morning spent outside involved in a community activity probably felt like the most natural and healthy thing in the world. And there is no question it was an extremely healthy way to spend Sunday morning. It is good for the community, good for physical health, good for building relationships.
As I biked away from the end of my run, I heard church bells calling worshippers to gather. A nagging uncertainty played in the back of my mind. Had we who spent our morning on Sunday April 25, 2010 sharing the experience of crossing the finish line at the end of the 10K, wasted a morning that would have been better spent sitting in a pew? Or, could those who were entering hallowed halls to share in worship, have passed their time more profitably by joining with 13,000 other citizens in a great outdoor community endeavour?
There is no easy answer. The important thing for me to appreciate is that this is a version of a question many people have to ask themselves every Sunday. Our community offers a vast array of worthwhile ways to spend Sunday morning that do not include going to church. Those of us for whom church is usually the only consideration, need to be sensitive to the real struggle Sunday morning presents for many people who often choose to share in a community activity rather than attending church.
I know that one thing I will take with me next Sunday after my experience of skipping church is a deeply renewed appreciation for those who do choose to find their way into worship every Sunday, or even every other Sunday, or once a month, or even sometimes. There is a real sacrifice involved in sharing in the Sunday ritual of public worship. It requires deep commitment to make the effort to be in a pew when you could be running along the Dallas Road waterfront with 13,000 people and ending up among the hundreds of children on the lawns of the Legislature patiently lining up to gain access to the Jumpy Castle.
Of course I believe there is infinite benefit for those who join for worship in a church on Sunday. I believe their lives are deepened and their spirits are enriched. I believe the universe is improved in mysterious and secret ways by the prayer and worship of those who set time apart from the busyness of their normal lives to acknowledge the presence of the Divine.
I hope, after my experience of skipping church, I will never take for granted the dedication of those who give two or three hours of their Sunday morning to pray, sing, hear a sermon, and share in communion with their spiritual community.