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The big questions: Where is the joy in church?

This year Journey explores questions from the pews, namely from a (fictitious) person exploring faith and the Uniting Church. This month Nova B Lever asks: Where is the joy in church?

I FEEL sorry for our minister.

She’s a happy person, and certainly reflects a lot of joy whenever I speak with her.

She asked me to help one Sunday morning by leading the congregation in our prayers of thanksgiving.

I must say I was thrilled to be involved in that way and I arrived at the service quite excited.

Perhaps I was paying more attention than usual, but I began to notice something during the call to worship.

The Bible reader turned a joyful psalm that spoke of rejoicing in the Lord and coming to his house with thanksgiving and praise … into a monotone recitation.

I wasn’t expecting cries of, “Praise God!” or “Hallelujah”. (I sneak away to a charismatic church some evenings for that.)

Then again, I wasn’t expecting what I saw when I went up to pray.

There were rows of deadpan faces.

The reflected joy of the Lord would have been great.

I would have been satisfied with a little happiness shown here and there.

How about a smile, folks?

What must it be like to stand up there and see that every Sunday morning?

I went home pondering about the joy of the Lord that is our strength.

Not the bank balance or the volunteerism, not the committees or the councils, but the joy of the Lord as something that strengthens us.

The New International Version mentions joy 244 times.

I’m not proof texting,

I’m simply adding up.

What doesn’t add up is our lack of emotion, whether happy or sad.

We’re good at the head stuff in the Uniting Church.

We think about God.

We have a rather intelligent faith and our clergy emphasise “good theology”.

So they should.

We’re not so good with the heart stuff.

We rarely express how we feel in the presence of God.

Unless of course we feel nothing as we sit there and nod from time to time.

Learning isn’t hard for most of us; spiritual vitality is.

Perhaps our spirits are more closely connected to our emotions than our intellect.

Education, from sermons and books, can be measured and assessed, but we feel our way as we develop a trusting
relationship with God.

In my experience of relationships, sometimes I smile and sometimes I cry when I’m with the one I love.

I never sit with a blank stare.

Joyful faith is like the smiles missing from our faces: “a hope in things unseen!”