After over a year of quarantining and staycations, a record number of Americans are expected to take to the road this summer, a delightful turn of the tide signaling the slow but steady fade of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vacations mean different things to different people. But whether your time away takes you to the beach or the mountains, two hundred or two thousand miles from home, there’s no dispensation for Christians to ignore the fourth commandment: “Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.”
How Christians keep that admonition is very personal and subject to a wide interpretation. It’s true that we can worship anywhere. As for me, I thoroughly enjoy visiting various churches while away from home.
In fact, if my own parents hadn’t done the same while on vacation, I probably wouldn’t be here today.
It was the morning of Sunday May 29, 1948, at a popular summer camp resort called Culvermere in the woods of northern New Jersey. As part of his various duties of employment, seventeen-year-old Jim Batura had just finished cleaning up the breakfast dishes and was starting on foot down the road to a local church. He was hoping to make it in time and then get back to assume his lunch preparation tasks.
At the same time, 16-year-old Joan Cummings, a guest at the resort for Memorial Day weekend, had climbed into a touring car with a sister and some friends for the short drive to the same church. Seeing the tussled haired boy hustling down the road in a tie, they stopped and inquired if he was going to the same place and if he needed a ride. He gladly accepted.
Jim and Joan Batura were married seven years later, a happy union that resulted in five children and 57 years of wedded bliss. My mom and dad always considered that morning of worship to be their first date and the foundational rock upon which they built their marriage.
Singles may not always meet their future spouse while at church on vacation, but neglecting to assemble and worship with fellow believers while away from home potentially deprives both the visitors and the hometown congregants a blessing and a richness of experience that other tourist spots can never provide.
If I’m honest, I wasn’t always thrilled with my parents rousing us early on Sunday mornings to attend churches full of people we didn’t know and whom we were likely to never see again. But decades later, I still remember sitting on worn, wooden pews of another generation, and singing hymns within walls that once held many of the people now buried in adjacent church cemeteries.
I remember listening to my mom and dad ask ushers about a congregation’s history, then hearing how the clapboards of one small church in Maine was once part of a great sailing ship. Standing at the back door of another stone cathedral, we learned of missionaries of a fledgling order coming on a long journey to start a fellowship with only a few people and years later the Lord having grown it to a massive and booming congregation.
These experiences widened my view of the world, and especially Christendom. Where before my understanding of my faith was parochial limited to my church on Long Island. My young mind began better understanding the connectivity and power of Christians united from “sea to shining sea.”
The rise of streaming services and the growing popularity and necessity of online church may encourage vacationing believers to virtually “attend” back home. Again, this is a matter of personal preference. As for me, I opt for worshipping in person while away.
Attending church while on vacation also impressed upon me as a child the fact that our faith follows us wherever we go. Obligation is really opportunity. What a privilege it is to freely worship in whatever town or city you find yourself away from home. In a world full of strangers, it is instant acceptance and simply friends whom you’ve not yet met.
Many years ago, our wood-sided Plymouth station wagon, full of kids and traveling paraphernalia, broke down on the Massachusetts Turnpike just outside the town of Marlboro. Stranded with no car for the weekend, we took shelter in a nearby Holiday Inn waiting for a mechanic to fix our busted radiator on Monday.
Come Sunday morning my father announced we were walking to church, which we did in the humid summer heat. It felt like a twenty-mile hike, though it was more likely two or three.
“Given what the Lord has done for you, surely you can do this for Him,” my mother told us.
I don’t think we were doing God any great favor in huffing our way to worship, but I agree with the sentiment all the same. Worship is a great privilege, and our Lord is worthy of our praise – whether we’re home or on vacation in Hawaii looking forward to catching the next wave.
Paul J. Batura is vice president of communications at Focus on the Family and the author of several books. He can be reached via Twitter @PaulBatura or email Paul@PaulBatura.com