It’s likely not a surprise to anyone reading this, that I like to go to church. It is, after all, what I do. I’ve been going to church for as long as I can remember. Even as a kid, the occasional Sunday when we’d miss would feel a bit destabilizing, as though without the Sunday morning routine, the rest of the week was somehow “off.” I like leading worship. I like sitting in the pew as a member of the congregation. I like listening to good preaching and I like it when I feel like my own preaching-work went well. Wednesday night at Celebrate! is a highlight of my week and the mid-morning break of Morning Prayer frequently structures my day between more solitary reading and writing (it’s 9:25 a.m. as I write this) and more my social pastoral conversations and meetings. When I’m away from campus and I know that people are gathering for worship and prayer at exactly that time, I feel a little like I’m missing out on something. Going to church makes me feel good.

But that’s just me.

Or is it?

There’s been a long-standing debate about the benefits of regular religious participation with some observing in the research data, measurable benefits in mental health and overall wellness and others questioning the validity of such claims due to the wide-ranging set of variables involved. After all, if going to church is just one part of a large constellation of life-style choices, then how is one to claim that the act of religious worship is, of itself, a benefit?

A recently published study aimed to tease out the effect of religious practice itself from other factors by evaluating the mental health of adolescents aged 13 to 18 years and correlating it to their own religious practice and the religious practice of their peers. The question was: does religious practice itself decrease one’s risk of depression or do students with lots of friends who are religious also show decreased levels of depression? The goal was to remove questions of family background from being an influencing factor. The thinking is that the religiosity of one’s classmates is more of a matter of chance. 

Using this more conservative approach, the study found that one’s own religious practice provided a buffer against depression beyond that of those who had peers who were religious. The buffering effect seemed especially beneficial for those who suffered from severe depression.

You can listen to a 2-minute summary of the study on NPR’s The Hidden Brain or you can read the study, Religion and Depression in Adolescence, for yourself.

See you in church and we’ll both feel better.

Pr Jim

Nov. 6, 2019

University Pastor James Wetzstein and Deaconess Kristin Lewis take turns writing weekly reflections. You can contact Deaconess Kristin here and Pastor Jim here