Many churches celebrated independence from Covid restrictions on the Fourth of July. After about a year and a half, we were finally free to return to church. Some pastors never left the pulpit. They preached in empty sanctuaries, kept in contact with their parishioners virtually, and provided drive through services — all to remind us that we were not alone and we serve a higher power. Often confined to our homes, (those of us fortunate enough to have homes because these rent prices and mortgages have become astronomical — but I will save that for another article) we were all desperate for connections with the outside world. While some rushed to finally be inside a church, others vowed to never return. From what I can gather, there seems to a new way of thinking that devalues attending church regularly. I do try to see the other side, there are churches that prey on people. Some focus on building wealth — prosperity preaching. Some appear to be judgmental, unwelcoming to those that may look different, dress different, worship differently. I get it. But there are no perfect churches. For me, when I find the right church, I always feel like I am in a safe place. I am with believers. I can praise how I see fit. There is outreach. There are sermons preached from the Bible. Those are the types of churches that I am drawn to, those that provide a sense of peace. As I sit and listen, I observe the preachers, I listen as they provide a preview to the message, share the scripture and proceed with usually three points. Often, I admit, I am a little mesmerized. After all these years, I still wonder how they are able to weave words into a mosaic that we all can relate to. A balance of instruction, inspiration and encouragement is presented each week to an array of people with vast experiences and the weight of problems unknown to the person behind the pulpit. They preach to the oppressed, the marginalized, the wealthy, the famous, the unknown — young and old, new members, seasoned members. Everyone under the tent receives a message. We hear what is needed. We cling to the Word based on our needs and our experiences. Church is not just a building; it is a refuge. It is where you run to at the end of a long week and a short fuse. It is a place you can walk into slowly as you reflect on all of God’s goodness. It is hope. It is giving to those in need. I remember once when funds were low and I was just trying to figure out how we could make it until the end of the month. I contemplated skipping church to save gas money, but I instead chose to step out on faith. At the end of the sermon, there was an altar call. I went up and prayed for help. At the end of the group prayer, the preacher had someone collect all of our information. He said that he had something for us. The following week we all received a check. It was such a blessing. I will never forget that act of kindness in an immense time of need. I continue to try to pay it forward. This past week, our church gave out iPads to all of the high school seniors. What an unexpected blessing for them. The blessings are not always material items. We benefit from additional prayers, kind gestures, unexpected hugs and well wishes. Inspirational scriptures. Encouragement for the week ahead. I am thankful that service has returned. I am grateful for good preaching and teaching. We benefit from each crafted message, that the preacher has poured hours into — revising and editing over and over again. When contemplating whether to return to church, my best advice is to pray and see what He says. Of course, physically attending church regularly is not a requirement, but it is respite. It is light. It is guidance. It is hope.

T.R.Y. Life learner, mother, daughter, poet, teacher, rights crusader. Always on a mission.