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Chris Bourbeau and Jill Sandole ushering on Rose Sunday, First Congregational Church Nantucket

Doing Church: Rx for Good Health?

Is going to church weekly good for you?

Miki Lovett, Sacristan at ST. Mary's Church Nantucket

Is going to church weekly good for you?

That was a question posed in a recent New York Times opinion piece penned by Stanford University anthropologist and author T. M. Luhrmann. 

In her article, Dr. Luhrmann said, “One of the most striking scientific discoveries about religion in recent years is that going to church weekly is good for you.”

The author continued by saying, “Religious attendance—at least, religiosity—boosts the immune system and decreases blood pressure.  It may add as much as two to three years to your life.”

On Nantucket, especially in the summertime, there are a myriad of distractions competing for our time on a given Sunday morning.  Demanding house guests, pristine beaches, relaxing yoga classes, leisurely dog walks at Sanford Farm, “Meet the Press” viewing, exhilarating bike rides or runs and serene sailing in the harbor are among the many alternatives to attending Sunday church services. 

I thought it might be interesting to find out why some of Nantucket’s weekly church goers from various island congregations make Sunday church attendance a priority. Are there benefits, according to my friends of different faiths?

Jill Sandole is a long-time member of the First Congregational Church of Nantucket on Centre Street, which has been worshipping as a church since 1725. She is active in many aspects of the congregation and considers the church an important part of her island life.

“I have been a faithful and grateful member of the Congregational church for over 20 years now. Attending Sunday services and other church events always renews my spirit and restores my soul,” said Sandole.  “It reminds me that we are all one in the face of God, and we have a responsibility to help those in need.”

“When my dear Dad suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and I was wracked with grief sometimes on a daily basis, my church family was there to lift my spirits,” she said.   “When world news is tragic, we grieve and pray together for peace and healing for all who suffer.”

According to Sandole, her church is very liberal and tolerant, the way she feels it should be.  “All are always welcome to the communion table,” she explains.  “All of us are broken in our own ways, yet we are all special and meant to share our gifts and talents to help heal each other and the world.”

“Being a member of a faith community keeps me grounded and grateful for the many blessings and simple pleasures of life, and reminds me to live each day in a purposeful way, with care and compassion for all of God’s creatures, and to be a good steward to our fragile planet and our beautiful Island we call home,” Sandole concluded.

Island photographer Beverly Hall, who holds a Master of Divinity degree from the Episcopal Divinity School, has held numerous leadership positions at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church over the years. The congregation has been a fixture on Fair Street since 1850. 

Responding to why she feels church is important, Hall said,  “Going to church on a regular basis gives a rhythm to my week-- the Sabbath is a time to pause and rest in the midst of the distractions and busyness of our over-scheduled lives (especially on Nantucket with all its seasonal fundraising events, tourists, traffic, etc.)”

“It allows me to get out of myself as we go deeper inward,” Hall explains.  “It is literally ‘the pause that refreshes,’ to use a well-worn phrase.”

Hall feels that the community that comprises St Paul's Church instills a sense of extended family — warts and all. “Ironically, now that I am newly partnered (married to David), it gives us the opportunity to share in a silent companionship that we could not get in our everyday at-home life,” Hall concluded.

Artist Miki Lovett serves as head sacristan and cantor at Church of St. Mary, Our Lady of the Isle, which has been prominent on Federal Street since the first mass was served there in 1897.

“First, let me say that the thoughts I share here are not ‘The Catholic Position’ but one Catholic’s approach to liturgy and her relationship to God,” explained Lovett.  “I love the liturgy. At liturgy I meet God not only as an individual, but as a member of a community in the name of the whole human race,” Lovett says. “I am honored and grateful to have been called to be a part of the Body of Christ. It is only as a member of that Body in union with the Divine Head, Jesus, through the gift of the Holy Spirit that I am to offer fitting adoration and confidently make petitions to the One who Is both for myself and for others.... It is there that God’s family gathers for the sacramental meal and for conversation with God and each other. We hear God’s word in readings and respond in prayer and song. We each receive the sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus for our spiritual sustenance, health, growth and unification,” she continued.

According to Lovett, in each Mass she feels she gets to know God a little better and learns a little more how to be mindful of the many gifts of God, to be mindful of those less fortunate, and to seek recognition of and healing for her many weaknesses.  “I also seek the strength to serve, wisdom to know when and how to serve, and to be constantly challenged to grow as an individual and as a member of the community of faith,” Lovett added.   “And it is the primary place where I also know, by word and action, that God truly loves me and gave himself for me and for all.”

“Do I live this? Not very well, but better than I used to, which is why I keep going back,” she concludes.

At the gold domed Unitarian Universalist Meeting House on Orange Street, which has been serving the Nantucket community since 1809, long-time member Bob Hall was most recently president of the congregation’s board of trustees and currently serves as treasurer.  His response to “why church” is succinct yet powerful. 

“Once a week I like to sit quietly and ask myself if I am being a good person,” explained Bob Hall.  “The answer is not always welcome, but a stimulating sermon and the social interaction give me the spiritual encouragement to try harder.”

Now that you’ve heard from other Nantucketers with their opinion, what’s your reason for attending church services on Sundays.  Or not?  Join in the conversation.

Nantucket Chronicle’s Linda Spery explores the Nantucket spiritual community-at-large, covering events and news of the island’s various religious congregations.   She and her husband Craig Spery have been involved in leadership positions in numerous nonprofit organizations since they became year-round island residents in November 2006.  If you have a news item or feature subject to suggest, Linda can be reached at [email protected].