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If you’re a regular reader of this newsletter, then the name “Jennifer Graham” should be familiar. She’s one of my colleagues at the Deseret News, and I often highlight her articles and opinion pieces related to religion news.

Last week, I was scrolling X, the site formerly called Twitter, and one of Jennifer’s tweets caught my eye. She was talking about her “New Year’s idea” (her version of a resolution) to visit a new church every month and encouraging others to adopt the goal.

As someone who failed to follow through with a very similar resolution in 2020 — I blame the pandemic — I had to learn more.

Here are Jennifer’s thoughts about why visiting churches is important, including some advice for introverts who get anxious when they go to a new place.

Kelsey Dallas: What’s your typical church attendance habit?

Jennifer Graham: I’m not fanatical about it — meaning I miss a couple of Sundays a year — but generally attend Mass every weekend and on the Catholic Church’s prescribed Holy Days of Obligation.

KD: What inspired you to take on this “New Year’s idea”?

JG: Last year, a church near my home closed and tried to get the property rezoned commercial. There was pushback from many in the town who wanted the vibe of a church but clearly didn’t want to support it with their attendance. I wrote a little bit about this here.

I had to confront the fact I was part of that crowd. Although I’d driven past the church daily for years, and enjoyed the inspirational sign with a message the church changed weekly, I’d never gone to a service or the living Nativity they put on every Christmas. So I did a little soul-searching about that.

I was never going to join the church — I am a cradle Catholic who finds comfort and inspiration in the rituals of my faith, and this church was a different denomination with none of the Catholic “residue” that remains in some other denominations (like the Episcopal Church). Still, I felt on some level that I had failed my brothers and sisters in Christ by not visiting even once.

And I started thinking about all the other churches that are still open near me, and that I drive by all the time without knowing anything about what goes on inside. It seemed a bit much to say I’d go to a new church every week, but I figured I could pull it off once a month without feeling too disloyal to my own church. So that’s what I decided to do.

I should mention that for five years in the 1990s, I was a religion writer for The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, and I often went to worship services outside of my own faith tradition, as well as national gatherings of the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church. So this really wasn’t too far out of my comfort zone like it might be for someone who’s never been to a service outside their own tradition.

I should also mention, my town voted against rezoning the closed church to commercial. The property was sold under the existing zoning and it recently reopened as a mosque.

KD: How do you choose which churches to visit?

JG: I live in the suburbs of Boston, where there are as many Catholic churches as there are Dunkin’ locations. So I have started with the ones closest to my town, ones I already knew about from driving past them. This could literally take up the whole year, so I may have to bump this up to twice a month.

I also want to go to the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Boston in downtown Boston — which to my shame, I’ve never visited because it’s just so easy to go to the church closest to you. (Many people think you have to go to your closest church, but in the Catholic Church, anyway, you are not required to go to your “home” parish and can choose the church that best fits your spiritual needs.)

I also want to go to the cathedral in Worcester, Massachusetts, the second largest city in Massachusetts, which is just 30 minutes from my house. And there are some seemingly vibrant parishes in some Portuguese communities near me that I want to visit, as well as a nondenominational church that is drawing a much bigger crowd than the Catholic churches. So that’s on the list, too.

KD: What’s your most memorable moment from a visit so far?

JG: When Catholics enter a church, they dip their hand in holy water and make the sign of a cross. I went to one large and rather modern church and dipped my hand in the water and as I was making the sign of the cross, I realized that I’d put my hand in the baptismal font — the vessel with holy water was a few yards away. So that was memorable, and not in a good way, and I really hope nobody noticed, although I’m sure someone did.

At another church, I was touched when the priest who was greeting people at the door said “Welcome” to me, which made it clear that he knew his spiritual flock and knew I wasn’t one of his regulars. I appreciated being noticed — although he didn’t ask any follow-up questions, which is probably something pastors should do if they’re hoping that someone will come back.

KD: On X, you called on people to go to church again so that beautiful churches don’t sit empty. What advice do you have for people who feel awkward diving into a new faith community?

JG: Follow someone inside the church when you’re going for the first time and follow their lead — if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have been putting my hand in the baptismal font.

Check out the church online if there is a website. Since COVID, many churches now stream services and sometimes you can see a previous service on YouTube. (Sometimes I watch weekday morning Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on X.)

And if you are really nervous about the potential for being accosted, you can always slip in a minute after the service started, and slip out a minute before it ends. Making a habit of that isn’t a great idea, since one of the many benefits of going to church is social interaction, but for introverts, that’s certainly an option.

Fresh off the press

An Ohio pastor says he’s facing new pressure to end his 24-hour homelessness ministry

How the Israel-Hamas war led to a canceled graduation ceremony in the U.S.

What the Supreme Court said about former President Donald Trump’s presidential immunity claim

Will the Supreme Court force changes to Idaho’s abortion law?

Do bans on public sleeping turn homelessness into a crime?

Person of the week: Claudia Sheinbaum

Like the United States, Mexico is holding a presidential election this year. Unlike the United States, its most popular candidate is a religious “none” with Jewish ancestry.

Claudia Sheinbaum, 61, has four Jewish grandparents who immigrated to Mexico from Lithuania and Bulgaria, according to The Associated Press. She was raised nonreligious, but she describes herself as a woman of faith.

While campaigning, Sheinbaum, who is the former mayor of Mexico City, has spent more energy on forging connections with the Catholic community than the Jewish one, The Associated Press noted. That’s because the Catholic Church still plays a huge role in Mexican life.

“Mexico is a secular state with a robust legal framework that establishes the government’s separation from the church, but the Catholic presence in the country is vast. According to the latest official report (2020), 98 million of 126 million Mexicans are Catholics,” The Associated Press reported.

If elected in June, Sheinbaum would become Mexico’s first female president.

What I’m reading...

Arthur Brooks’ recent column for The Atlantic about finding your faith is a great companion piece for Jennifer’s story about her recent religious adventures.

As the religious landscape changes, faith-based retirement communities are choosing to rebrand, according to a recent story from The New York Times. Residents who are active in a faith group still have access to a variety of religious services, but others face no pressure to get involved. “The religious aspect, which was once a meaningful calling card, is now often seen as just another effective marketing tool, like on-site beauty salons or golf pro shops,” the Times reported.

I’ve written quite a bit about Christian athletes and coaches, but I’ve never thought to write about their unique approach to NIL deals. Christianity Today recently dove into that topic, exploring how Christian athletes use their social media platforms to promote Jesus — and themselves.

Odds and ends

My younger son got a new shirt that says “religion journalist in training.” He can be State of Faith’s mascot.