“So what” is an essential question for people of faith: what does it matter that we worship, or meditate, or chant sutras? Another way of looking at that question — one that any church congregation could ask itself — is what would we, our neighborhood, our society miss if we weren’t here — we crazy people who choose to act as if God does indeed exist? The rector of my church in Honolulu asked that question of our congregation several years ago, and it moved us to expand our ministries in ways we could never have foreseen. We now offer free-wi-fi to the neighborhood; and host a weekly farmer’s market. We added a hot lunch to our monthly grocery give-away, giving our many elderly neighbors who come a rare chance to socialize.
But sometimes just the presence of a church — a space for something as useless and marvelous as worship — can be a powerful witness. Last year a woman staggered into our church office — she’d had a bad fight with her boyfriend, and had taken an overdose of barbiturates. She’d left their apartment, and after wandering for a bit, was headed to a park where she might curl up under a tree and die. We’re across the street from that park; and the woman told the church secretary that when she saw the church she realized that she wanted to live. Tell that story the next time an atheist tries to tell you that churches serve no purpose; or a misguided and bitter poet says that religious language is a dead language.