As a missionary in Hungary in the late 1990s, my companions and I were often asked, “Why do I need to attend church? I believe in God, I worship him in my heart–why isn’t that enough?”
Of course, we trotted out answers, including Moroni 6:5-6, about early church members meeting together to fast and pray for the welfare of others, or the need to meet together to renew our covenants through the sacrament. But mostly these ideas seemed nebulous to these would-be investigators and rarely satisfied them.
This question–why do we need to attend church?–has stayed with me in the years since coming home, especially on days (like yesterday) when I spend half of sacrament meeting in the hallways following my toddler and only intermittently catching the drift of the talks.
But this past weekend I had an opportunity that has clarified some of these reason for me. I attended the LDStorymakers conference, and I came away energized and inspired to dive into my writing. (Too bad I have finals to grade first). As I’ve reflected on my conference experience, I realized there are lots of parallels between what happens at a writing conference and what (ideally) happens when we attend church.
Living a Christ-centered life, much like living a writing life, can be a lonely profession. We are not always surrounded by people who value what we do, or believe, or aspire to. Gathering together–whether as members or as writers (or as any other group united by a shared interest)–reminds us that we are not alone. We all need the strength and encouragement we get from one another.
While the atonement is very individual-centric (Christ atoned for each of us individually, and each of us must apply the atonement in our own lives), I believe that the process to get there is very much about community. Part of the way we work out our salvation is through service in a community–service at home, service at church, service in the wider community. One of the things I found so inspiring about this recent conference is the wide variety of mentoring I saw–a form of service among writers where more advanced writers gave advice, feedback, and support to writers all along the spectrum. I think we all benefit when we’re plugged into these kinds of service-oriented communities.
And of course, we learn. At church we learn from one another; at the writing conference I attended several inspiring and informative classes (this time, I even taught a class). I’ve found that the best insights often come from other people–and when I open myself up to learning, I give the Spirit more room to work in my life as well.
Yesterday, in my Mia Maid class, I taught the girls about the restoration of the priesthood. But what astounded me–as it does every time I’m humble enough to admit I don’t yet know everything–was how much I learned from the girls in my class. They didn’t know much about the facts of the restoration, but their testimonies of how the priesthood blesses their lives brought the Spirit into the room in a way all of my factual knowledge hadn’t.
This isn’t to say that our communities (religious, writing, or otherwise) are perfect or that we always agree with one another (you just have to follow #storymakers14 on Twitter for the Friday night keynote to see that). But even beyond the necessary sacraments at church, being part of a community reminds me on a regular basis of the kind of person (and writer) that I’m aspiring to be.
What about you? What (beyond the sacrament) motivates you to attend church on a regular basis? Are you part of any other community (hobby, athletic, etc.) that helps motivate you?