July – the month when people vanish from the pews faster than the blazing sun burns off the early morning haze. Where does everybody go?
Let’s assume for a moment that every single July absentee is vacationing. Even so, unless one is in the heart of the Okefenokee there’s bound to be a church within hailing distance. Even the National Park Service found a way to mix government and religion: I once attended a Protestant worship service in the Grand Canyon.
I’ve worshiped in foreign nations where I didn’t understand a single word of the service and still received a blessing. On rare Sunday road trips I’ve stopped at the first church – any denomination – I could find at 11 a.m. to join others in prayer and praise.
When it comes to vacation travel from the widest perspective church attendance should be “net neutral.” Some congregations – happily located in popular vacation destinations – will register big attendance boosts while others will suffer the downside. I once worshiped on Sunday, July 4, in Cashiers, N.C.; that dynamic service remains the only July 4th service in my life that felt like Easter Sunday, thanks to vacationers from across the Deep South who flocked to the cooler mountains.
Churches in Florida should be much fuller in winter than in summer. Pews in Maine, Minnesota and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula should be fuller in summer than winter. If worshipers are faithful about going to church wherever they find themselves no matter the circumstance, then July worship attendance balances out in the larger scheme of things. Albany, Ga., may not rank as one of the most popular tourist destinations, but there are people visiting here every Sunday; they could be in worship.
Earlier this summer I was on the road two successive Sundays. The first Sunday my wife and I found ourselves at a United Methodist Church in a non-tourist town of 7,000 nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The service was too folksy for my taste, but the sermon was enthusiastically delivered and a solitary musician played an inspiring instrumental bell anthem usually played by an entire bell choir, her arms moving at warp speed from one end of the bell table to the other. The next Sunday we were in the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. for an entirely different type service. We did not build our vacation around either church service but we were rewarded with two excellent worship opportunities.
Does it sound like too much trouble to worship while on vacation? That’s just silly. Forget about “Sunday clothes.” People are more casual these days. Forget about unfamiliarity with the service. Occasional change can help us appreciate different aspects of the Trinity. Overlook that you’ll be in a congregation of strangers. In Christ all are brothers and sisters. Just go. You’ll be glad you did.
P. S. On another note, Argentinean Pope Francis expressed his disappointment in his nation’s 1-0 loss to Germany in the FIFA World Soccer Cup Final last Sunday. No word on whether he had a friendly wager with his predecessor, German Pope Benedict XVI.