Martin B. Copenhaver
"Finally, [the spirit] took me to the inside court of the Temple of God." - Ezekiel 8:16
Have you noticed that most people, when they come to worship, don't sit up front? The back of the church tends to fill up first almost as predictably as the bottom of a glass will be the first to be filled with water. Why is that? If we are attending a concert or a lecture, we would charge down front where the "good seats" are. But why not when we come to worship?
I have heard a number of theories. People want to be able to see who else is there, which is easier to do from the back. And it is easier to slip out quickly after worship if you sit in the back.
Those explanations may be part of the story, but I have another theory. I think we don't immediately go to the front because that would feel like a definitive declaration of faith. Sitting in the back you can still feel like you have one foot in and one foot out. To stride down the aisle and sit in the front feels like skipping right to the "your whole self in" part of the hokey pokey, and we may not be ready for that. Our own experience of faith often is more qualified, more tentative than that.
If doubt or uncertainty disqualifies us from worship, we will have many empty churches. Some of us live lives of doubt, diversified by faith. Others of us live a life of faith, diversified by doubt. And in the church there is room for us all. Even at the front of the church.
In the Temple in Jerusalem there was an inner court, reserved for the righteous, and an outer court for everyone else. Gratefully, in the United Church of Christ, it is all an inner court and we are all invited there - no matter who we are.
Thank you, God, that your invitation to me is not based on my righteousness, but instead flows from your graciousness.
Martin B. Copenhaver is Senior Pastor of Village Church, United Church of Christ, in Wellesley, Massachusetts. A new edition of his book, Living Faith While Holding Doubts has just been published by Pilgrim Press.