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Going to church Sunday mornings now seen as odd

"Sundays were made for The New York Times," goes the familiar refrain for that newspaper's advertising campaign.

Apparently Sundays, Sunday mornings in particular, were also made for children's birthday parties, soccer games, and "play dates." But made for church? What's that?

One of my children was just invited to a Sunday morning birthday party. Again. Ten a.m. to be exact. It's a familiar pattern. The invitation comes in, we eagerly scan the invitation for the date and time, we find it falls right in the middle of our Sunday morning and church service, and we have to decline. I call the mother to respond and, as always, she is stunned that a family would be in church at 10 on a Sunday morning, even more stunned that they wouldn't put it aside for a birthday party. She mutters something about how she just "hadn't thought of that," and indicates by her voice that that church attendance stuff sounds nice — but, well, a little weird.

Our family has had to miss all kinds of parties, outings, sporting events, even Boy Scout activities because we partake in what is apparently a strange ritual on Sunday mornings. We go to church.

A friend recently expressed her amazement that when I visited my family in Chicago, without my own kids, I went to church with my brother and his family. As she put it, "You didn't even have your children with you and you still went to church?" Yep. Weird.

These are all great, family oriented people, many of whom would describe themselves as at least nominally Christian. But to them, we're still a little oddball for regularly doing that Sunday morning thing.

I'm not suggesting that people take into account all possible religious considerations when scheduling a child's birthday party. (Though for our own children's parties I have, for instance, avoided Saturdays when Jewish friends were on the guest list.) I would just like to get a little more support from the culture in making church attendance a regular event for my family.

And, yes, I would like my kids to believe that there are other children in America, somewhere out there, (besides those in their church family) who actually do worship on Sunday mornings instead of going to birthday parties or sports events.

In reruns of "The Andy Griffith Show," there's a wonderful episode in which a traveling salesman has his car break down outside Mayberry on a Sunday morning. When he walks into town, the place seems deserted because, of course, everyone is at "preachin'." Later, no one is in a rush to fix the salesman's car or do much of anything for that matter. The type-A salesman goes a little bit batty — until the end of the show, by which time, of course, he's come to rather like Mayberry and its slower pace of life.

I'm not asking for a return to those days, though I bet that in some parts of the country such Sundays are, thankfully, not that far off even now.

I would just like some recognition, in my neck of the woods, that going to church on Sunday mornings was once considered downright normal.

Other religious groups, say Orthodox Jews, typically live in a community that supports them. Not so for the typical churchgoer today, at least where I live. We're hanging out there on our own. Driving past all the sleepy houses in our neighborhoods, down quiet streets, past homes where birthday party preparations are going on fast and furious, and around joggers and bike-riders, until we finally get to church to see the other people the culture says are kind of strange.

And whose fault is that? Well, in many ways it's the fault of us Christians. Broadly speaking, the church has de-emphasized the importance of Sunday morning worship. It's made alternate days and times available for church attendance.

Christian parents often haven't protected Sunday mornings and have sometimes been too ready to give in to the lure of birthday parties, sports events or Scout gatherings instead of worship. In some churches youth programs on Sunday mornings are literally indistinguishable from a secular outing — so maybe some parents think, "Then why bother going to church if my child has to miss a fun event in the process?" Other times Christians seem defensive or even a bit embarrassed by their Sunday church attendance.

So, in the end, I guess we Christians shouldn't be too surprised that the culture hasn't done our work for us in protecting our Sundays.


Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by e-mail at mailtohart@aol.com.