A recent survey by the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life indicated that half of all U.S. adults have changed their religious affiliation at some point in their lives.
The reasons people gave ranged from theological, such as longer believing in the practices of a particular church, to personal, such as they found a church of a different denomination that better fit their lifestyle.
The Daily Journal recently asked people what they liked most and what they liked least about church.
Barbara Field of Booneville likes church because it offers hope to those struggling with despair.
A nurse of 29 years, Field likened her own church, Beckley Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, to a hospital.
“People are sick sometimes in a mental way, sometimes in a spiritual way, and the church is like a holistic ministry,” said Field. “Jesus was about the whole person.”
She said the way Jesus treated the afflicted set an example for those working in ministry and medicine.
“A smile, a touch, Christians do a good job of giving of showing compassion,” said Field.
Lack of commitment and slothfulness among Christians is what she likes least.
“We ask ‘What’s in it for me?” said Field. “WE can be very self-centered and expect church to meet all or our needs and that shapes the whole character of the church.”
The joy the comes from opening up the Bible and worshiping with her children are the things Blanca Johnson enjoys most about church.
Johnson, a single mother originally from Mexico, lived most recently in New Orleans and evacuated to Tupelo when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. She now worships at Temple of Compassion and Deliverance.
Johnson was raised Catholic but said her conversion to a non-denominational worship has opened up a broader, more ecstatic worship experience.
“God has become my friend,” said Johnson. She appreciates the Bible-based simplicity of Pentecostal-style worship and how it has forced her to look deep within herself.
“I’m learning more about myself,” said the mother of three who was once the victim of domestic abuse. “I don’t have to put up a show, I can say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and live authentically.”
Johnson, who volunteers at Safe Inc. in Tupelo was well as the 1st District Drug Court said she is most disappointed that youth today often aren’t as involved in volunteerism and ministry as she’d like them to be.
“Parents in our churches have to take a firmer role in encouraging kids to help, like with the elderly,” said Johnson, adding that when she was a child her parents made sure she understood that getting involved was a responsibility not an option.
Tandalaya Traylor of Tupelo is making the transition from a Baptist church to a non-denominational church.
She sees a movement away from placing too much importance on denominational identity and toward greater unity among Christians.
“Church is church, as long as the word of God is going forth,” said Traylor.
She enjoys the freedom and charismatic worship of non-denominational churches.
“We run, shout, speak in tongues, there’s a real freedom of praise,” she said.
Traylor, an emergency room nurse, sees a lot of people suffering from depression today and said suicides are all too common. She sees church as an effective balm for people in despair, particularly during lean economic times.
“Church is free,” said Traylor. “and it can be such a great outlet if people just take advantage of it.”
She’s sometimes disappointed that pastors aren’t more accessible and that the whole experience of church intimidates people. She said the best worship encourages people to come as they are, and makes it clear that all are welcome.”
John Henson, a member of First Baptist Church Guntown, said his favorite thing about church is the open atmosphere and the chance to fellowship with other Christians. Nobody’s perfect, he said, but going to church helps people deal with their own shortcomings.
“I believe we all yearn to have fellowship with one another not to hide in our homes and stick our heads in the stand,” said Henson. “When a person retreats into solitude they do nothing to further the gospel.”
Henson added: “When we worship together we learn abotu people’s experiences, trials and temptations.”
Division and bickering top Henson’s list of dislikes.
“When you get down to what started an argument or divided a church, you just stop and think, ‘How could this happen?” said Henson, adding that pettiness and squabbling over trivial matters is something he sees all too often among Christians.
“Small things can led to huge events,” said Henson.
He’s also disappointed that Christian denominations seem to concerntrate on differences rather than similarities.
“Some denominations love to attack others just for spite,” said Henson. He added that the horrors of religious warfare in the Middle Ages is a terrible historical scar and, he hopes, people today are better informed and can respect others’ beliefs.
Steve Crampton appreciates the no-nonsense, straightforwardness of worship at his home church, Christ Community Church in New Albany. “No gimicks, no tricks, just Christ,” said Crampton.
he said that, especially in the South, going to church can become an empty routine that doesn’t genuinely impact people’s lives.”
Crampton is concerned that Christians’ approach to church too often reflects a kind of “cheap grace” that doesn’t cost them anything. He said that if we truly died to self and the world,and lived in Christ, “our cities and state would be transformed.”
Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal