Reading a newspaper recently, this is what I found: “Church-going helps to keep depression at bay”. Being a vicar, I read further to discover it is based on a large sample (9000 Europeans aged over 50) and by a reputable institution (the LSE).
The findings: “Older people with depression can see a better improvement in their mental health by going to a church, synagogue or mosque than by engaging in charity work, sport or education. Researchers from the LSE found joining a religious organisation was the best way of combatting this condition. But they could not say whether it was having a faith that caused the beneficial effect or simply because it gave people a sense of belonging.”
I am aware that different people will give different explanations for this: I am not trying to do anything as facile as trying to suggest this proves anything. But it does make me wonder why churchgoing is sometimes squeezed out by the hundred and one other things – often good in themselves – we fill our lives with.
Church should be about:
- A positive attitude of thankfulness;
- An honest openness about who we are and what we get up to – and therefore no need to pretend we are something we are not;
- An understanding that we are forgiven our mess ups and given new starts;
- A motivation for getting out there and trying to be more loving and caring;
- A community that accepts you and cares for you.
And what’s more it is an opportunity to have some space in very hectic lives. If the sermon gets you excited, all well and good: but if not, you can blank it out and just rest your mind. Years ago, I fell asleep during a talk by a senior clergyman and started “breathing deeply” (I never snore of course). Others looked embarrassed but the guy said: “if that’s what Peter needs, that is what he should be doing”. So, please fall asleep in my sermons if that is helpful to your tired mind or body!
I also wonder if churchgoing actually helps find space for the real priorities, rather than being driven by all those understandable drivers – iPhones (they’re turned off in church!), the shopping, sport and… and… and……… They all need doing yet they can be exhausting.
All our churches here are, I think, open and welcoming, inclusive communities. If the language used or things going on seem a bit novel or unfamiliar, no worries – like the best things in life (cricket being the obvious example!!), you need to get into it to get something out of it. I have been known to get lost in my own services and everyone just smiles and that’s how it should be.
Drop by to take some time out: you will be very welcome.