U.S. church membership and attendance is declining, according to a Gallup poll released last year. From the years 1937 to 2000, an average of 70 percent of Americans reported belonging to a church; in 2018, only 52 percent did. This decline is largely due to the number of Americans claiming no particular religious affiliation, which increased from 8 percent to 19 percent between 1998 and 2018.
Personally, I haven’t even ventured inside a church since sightseeing in London several summers ago at Westminster Abbey, whose towering buttressed ceilings and beautiful stained glass evoke an immediate sense of awe. I recall the experience as bathed in peaceful silence. I marveled how God, real or not real, sure does inspire some magnificent feats of architecture.
Is it worrisome, this sharp turn of America toward the secular? Perhaps. But our nation remains quite capable of religious practice. As evidence, I cite this past Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV, a yearly culmination of devoted weekly worship; the Easter of sport, if you will.
Americans tithe — millions of dollars each year — toward merchandise and season tickets. We break bread — allowing for a broad definition of “bread” that encompasses pizza, nachos and chicken wings. We commune — over beer — because it’s game day.
We pray — for our to team win. We sit helplessly in the bleachers and trust in forces greater than ourselves: the weather, the fitness of the quarterback, whoever’s job it was to inflate the ball that day.
I admit this religion vs. football analogy is mainly an excuse to make corny jokes. I am not a football fan, and would watch an entire game only under duress. I maintain a general knowledge of which teams are succeeding each season, based on news headlines and the logos people are wearing. But I truly do not care.
I mention my lack of interest in sports not to appear “holier than thou” — I have my own idols, who will be honored next Sunday at the annual Academy Awards ceremony, an equally if not more pointless and expensive affair than grown men throwing, kicking and fighting one another over an oblong ball.
Sports, the arts — in the absence of church — we find other avenues of exaltation and ritual. Compelled by some deeply ingrained human impulse, we gather at the stadium or multiplex to honor the seasonal rhythm of playoff games or movie releases.
But our modern worship is lacking. Sports arenas and movie theaters offer one-dimensional functionality. Churches, besides just Bible study, choir practice and Sunday service, have a vital place in the larger community. They’re a venue for secular events as varied as concerts, plays, Red Cross blood drives, AA meetings and bake sales — just to name a few. I myself spent hours, days, weeks of my teenage years at Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ on West Church Street, rehearsing for various community theater productions.
Hundreds of years from now, will the Hard Rock Stadium and Mercedes-Benz Superdome be held in the same esteem as Paris’ Notre Dame, or Cologne Cathedral? Will futurelings wander the miles of food stalls, trek the endless staircases of bench seating, sit and wonder at man’s past accomplishment?
I guarantee one thing — NO ONE will remember the victors of this year’s Super Bowl or what film won best picture. I hope history quickly forgets Peyton and Eli Manning, too. Even a football ignoramus like me is sick of those guys.
Alexandra DeArmon grew up in Frederick. She sorely wanted to include a “win one for the Gipper” reference in this column and almost failed. email@example.com.