Recently, I read that there is scientific evidence that going to church weekly has health benefits – it can boost the immune system, decreases blood pressure, and may add as much as two or three years to your life. When I heard this, I was interested to find out what types of activities generated these results, because after attending church I always feel refreshed with a more expanded view of my relationship with God, who to me isn’t anthropomorphic, but includes qualities such as love and principle.
What I found was that small sociable interactions like group Bible reading and discussion, spending time with an ill friend, or even helping a friend monetarily were just a few examples of the ways in which individuals felt that church attendance was beneficial. These finding were similar to my own personal experiences in attending church services. Social contact helped me listen more carefully to the message delivered at the pulpit. The contacts I found the most meaningful were simple and casual – a smile and supportive word, a question as to my view of an issue, an invitation for lunch after the service for informal fellowship. These activities and others made church more meaningful to me, and these relationships were the direct result of cultivating my relationship to God.
Helping other people open up to a wider view of their relationship to God can be just as health-giving. When I worked as a prison chaplain, I found that when my prayerful support was personally meaningful to an inmate, the inmate tended to be more regular in his attendance at services. But I also saw a positive change in behavior that spread throughout the facility. Inmates would greet me at the entrance to the compound and were interested in helping to get the room ready. Many times inmates were also eager to discuss how to apply the spiritual messages that I had shared. These individuals were the inmates that many times came to say good bye and express gratitude for what they learned when they were released.
The good expressed by these inmates was their way of expressing God – in fact some languages use God and good interchangeably. These inmates benefited from church attendance as they cultivated their relationship with God, good.
It’s encouraging to read current studies that indicate the health benefits that are derived from church attendance – where church services give importance to and encourage meaningful activities between individuals. I’m grateful to have felt these benefits in my own life as a church attendee.
photo © GLOW IMAGES. Models used for illustrative purposes.