How Big Is Church?

Our service each Sunday starts at 10:00. It generally finishes by a little after 11. Our childrens’ religious education classes take about the same time. Most folks stick around for twenty minutes or so afterwards for snacks and fellowship. So call it an hour and a half, once a week: 1.5 out of 168 hours. Broken down into the time it takes to show up for worship each week, it doesn’t seem like much at all. It’s the sort of thing that almost anyone could find time for – take a second to compare it to the number of hours you spent on e-mail or television this week – and it also comes across as something that would be easy to give up. Less than 1% of your week? How important can it be?


That all depends on how big you think church is. Because just showing up and warming a pew can be a huge step the first time you take it – I’ve known people who spent years thinking about their local congregation, wondering about it, yearning to connect with what was going on there, but afraid to take that fist step across the threshold. Our thoroughly commodified society values work for pay, and time spent buying or consuming things, but it often looks with distrust on time ‘spent’ (to use a transactional term) in places like church, where there is little to be bought and rarely any money to be made. So ‘just’ going to church has a counter-cultural quality to it – a tiny rebellion ever Sunday morning!


Here’s how the Rev. A. Powell Davies explained the odd habit of attending worship:

I come to church—and would whether I was a preacher or not—because I fall below my own standards and need to be constantly brought back to them. It is not enough that I should think about the world and its problems at the level of a newspaper report or a magazine discussion. It could too soon become too low a level. I must have my conscience sharpened—sharpened until it goads me to the most thorough and responsible thinking of which I am capable. I must feel again the love I owe my fellow [people]. I must not only hear about it but feel it. In church, I do.

We know, from experience, that an hour and a half on a Sunday morning has this power – to renew our sense of hope and purpose, and to connect us to our fellow human beings. What is more, it can even be fun! But I want to remind us that church is actually bigger than that, even bigger than the most amazing, life-changing worship experience. Church is bigger than that because it is bigger than Sunday morning. It is all day, every day. The thoughts and discussion that our Sunday morning experiences spark, the lasting connections made with friends and fellow travelers, the good work of volunteers who make our congregation live: all of these things can happen at any time if we let them. Our church is as big as we allow it to be.


On that note, I want to draw your attention to an opportunity to grow your church experience. Our small group ministry program at First Parish is an opportunity for the sort of spiritual deepening that A. Powell Davies was talking about: a gathering of 6-12 folks who meet once a month for a few hours to share their stories and reflect on a monthly theme. We have several established groups that are open to new members, and if you are at all curious, I encourage you to attend the Taste of Small Group Ministry on Monday, October 17th at 7:00 PM.


In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson


First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915


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