Becky Goodwin: Spiritual? Religious? Neither? Both?
I have heard it hundreds of times, from persons of tender hearts and keen minds: “I am spiritual, but not religious.”
I am a pastor, so when someone says this to me, they are surprised that I offer sympathy, not a debate. I understand why people avoid religion. Been there, done that.
Here is my story, and a challenge to everyone, whether you are spiritual, religious, neither or both. I think we all can make a better world by being spiritual and religious.
When I was a young adult in the 1970s, I said it another way, “I don’t need organized religion!” Disillusioned with the church of my childhood, I took faith into college and career, but I discarded the institution. I believed in God, especially as I experienced the Creator in nature, and I was active in good causes. Why would I need religion, too?
So I get why people say “I am spiritual, but not religious.” But in a hilarious twist of fate and faith, I found myself, in my late 20s, back in church. Crushed by life’s disappointments, I was in despair, but God showed up. Not just in nature, but in me.
I chose a different denomination, to avoid the sexism I could not abide in my childhood church. I discovered with joy that the “organized religion” I had rejected was not too organized after all; it needed my help to get better organized.
After all, I reasoned at the age of 27, I appreciated my organized local library, the organized grocery store, and the organized bluegrass music festivals that I enjoyed with my friends. These organized entities provided for my health in mind, body and spirit. Why not embrace “organized religion,” too?
So I did. I found a priceless community of diverse people with many flaws (yep, “hypocrites”), but also high ideals, inquiring minds, and a passion for peace with justice.
God had the last laugh when I reclaimed the call to ordained ministry that the church of my childhood would have denied me. With my new denomination’s support, I began an adventure of spiritual formation, seminary, ordination and church leadership.
I love my life’s calling, but something has shifted in society since I began to serve in 1992.
There has been a decline in attendance and membership in many churches. Pews used to be packed on holy days. Classrooms were full of people of all ages and stages of life, learning and growing in faith formation. Teams of mission work were on the go, locally and globally.
What happened? The “spiritual but not religious” culture now dominates.
We church folks are getting the message loud and clear. We are suffering the shrinkage of our budgets and the exhaustion of our aging members who are trying to do the good works of charity and advocacy done in the past by twice as many.
I think society is missing out on spiritual strength by the decline of “organized religion.”
In the current climate of political rancor and polarization, we all need to challenge our mindsets and soften our hearts. Guess where this happens? In “organized religion!”
We who administer religion are in the business of spiritual formation, which is the care of mind, body and spirit. We are in the business of offering community-building paths to peace and justice.
Here is a challenge to all, the “spiritual,” the “religious,” and those who consider themselves neither or both.
A popular song in the 20th century proclaimed “losin’ my religion.” Here is a challenge for the 21st century: “Find your religion!”
If you have been bored in church, or burned by negativity in a church, try another church, or even another religion. And don’t think of finding a church the way you would shop for a consumer product to suit you.
Religion is not a consumer service. Religion is the work of God being done by the people. Religion needs your help.
Whatever your talents, your assets, your time, your concerns, and your world view, there is an “organized religion” for everyone. Religion is a resource for your soul, a path for your spiritual formation, and a community to encourage you in your greatest hopes.
Our world, more than ever, needs devoted practitioners of faith. Find your religion.
Rev. Becky Goodwin has been a pastor for 25 years in the United Methodist Church and currently serving at Grass Valley, she previously served in Madera, Rancho Cordova, and Colfax. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 916-205-8832.
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