There’s been a lot of discussion on the internet and in the news about Governor Rick Perry’s latest television ad. Some of you may agree or disagree with Gov. Perry, and I’m not really interested in bashing the guy over his opinions about homosexuals in the military or prayer in school (although he did tackle quite a few things in such a few sentences!). He certainly has a right to those opinions, and I imagine he has lots of support and lots of opponents.

Besides all the issues he tried to address in his ad, the thing that struck me was in his first words: “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know…” Here is a politician who is both making a religious stand and at the same time giving permission to not be in church.

What a strange thing to say! But I think it points to the larger trend we’re seeing in our country. People seem to be more adamant and vocal about their religious beliefs, yet also aren’t going to church. I highlighted this trend that seems to be happening in the November newsletter. I wasn’t trying to make anyone feel guilty about not coming to church, but I am pointing out that there seems to be a disparity between people’s religious beliefs and their attendance at church. Despite whether a person is in church every Sunday, they have a lot to say when it comes to religious matters. The authority of religious conviction has most certainly moved from the institution to the individual. While I’m sure that has some advantages, it also has some scary implications.

Yesterday I was having lunch at the Hamilton Cafe with another local pastor. A gentleman came up and greeted us, like most people tend to do. He obviously had some history with the other pastor, who’s been in Harris County for a long time. The man hung around and talked about his life and how he almost died recently from an infection. He complimented the other pastor a great deal on his preaching. He began to ask us about Scripture and started quoting things from the Bible. He then made the statement, “All you need to do is believe God’s Word, read it, and you’ll be good with God.”

Really? Is that all?

After he left, the pastor leaned to me and said, “That guy hasn’t heard me preach. He’s never stepped foot in my church.”

Yet he knew a great deal about what it meant to be Christian, didn’t he?

So in order to be “right with God,” do we even need church? It doesn’t sound like Gov. Perry thinks so. The average joes on the street don’t seem to think so either.

So why is church important to you?

If you’re reading this, then you are probably one of the minority of folks who actually thinks church is vitally important. As Episcopalians, we believe gathering together is at the heart of what it means to be Christian. All of our symbols and traditions point to this. We are connected by our worship, our fellowship, and all the programs and events that facilitate these things. We know that at our core, even when we are at our best and at our worst, we belong with one another. And in fact, our beliefs are then shaped by the community because we’ve agreed to love one another no matter what our opinions may be or what our backgrounds are. Being “church” means being connected with the Body of Christ, and striving to be a part of that Body all the time. While it doesn’t mean “sitting in the pews” every Sunday, it does mean we darn well should try! Our gathering together moves us from the walls of our worship building out to be the shining example of Christ in a broken and confused world. We are the church at church so we can go out and be the church.

In the last few weeks, I have seen some tremendous examples of what it means to be the church. I saw 7-year-old Caroline Dixon approach our music director Sam Roney and give him 8 cents in thanksgiving for the music he plays every Sunday. I saw Joe and Kathie Torres give Nancy Callaway a framed picture of her and her husband Cason taken at St. Nicholas’ first Parish Picnic at Blue Springs. I see people hug, and send food, and care for people when they are hurt. I see choir members sing their hearts out, and Vestry members organize and act as stewards over what God has given us. These things are the result of sitting in the pews every Sunday. That’s what being the church is all about.

So, Governor Perry, if you’re not sitting in a pew every Sunday, you’re welcome to sit in ours! Come rediscover what it means to really be Christian: to feel the love and support of a community that is not focused on issues but people, to stand on thousands of years of thoughtful, inspired, and deeply rooted Christian tradition and practice, and to serve the world in the name of the One who triumphed over death and showed us how to really live life!

We’ll be here waiting for you.