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Returning to God

December 18, 1997

by Yvette May / staff photographer

Returning to God

By Teri Johnson

Staff Writer

The holiday season fills hearts with gladness and church pews with people who don't worship regularly.

The spirit of goodwill and the commemoration of Christ's birth move people to attend services, says Father George Limmer, pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Hagerstown.

"Some come back for the day, and others stick with it," Limmer says.

Christmas is a family time, and many think of the church as part of their extended family, says the Rev. John Ailstock of Presbyterian Church of Hagerstown.

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"It stirs something in them," Ailstock says.

Easter also is a time when people decide to return to church, but the reasons always aren't tied to the calendar.

People often come back during stressful situations such as sickness or death in the family.

"In times of crisis, people realize they need God in their life," Limmer says.

They also return when they are getting married or at significant points in the lives of their children, such as when they are baptized or receive first communion, he says.

Others having a midlife crisis may question who they are and what they would like to do, Ailstock says.

There is renewed interest in spirituality, and the trend is reflected in Judaism, says Rabbi Janice Garfunkel of Congregation B'Nai Abraham in Hagerstown.

"As people struggle to learn what gives life meaning, they turn to their heritage," she says.

People drift away from church for a number of reasons. They may be newly married and not share the same religion as their spouse, or they may figure that they'll wait until their children are older.

Some say they have other things to do than go to church, Limmer says.

"It's a question of their priorities," Limmer says.

Many leave the Jewish faith when they go away to college, Garfunkel says.

She says they leave the family at age 18 and tend not to be involved until they have children of their own.

"It's unfortunate, because it's such a formative stage of life," she says.

People tend to leave Judaism because they don't have a strong Jewish background, Garfunkel says.

Some have negative experiences in their childhood synagogue, and they end their Jewish education at age 18, thinking it's simplistic or childish, Garfunkel says.

The Jewish population is decreasing because members are marrying people of different faiths and not raising their children as Jews, Garfunkel says.

Much of the problem is generational, Ailstock says.

The baby boomers and those from Generation X don't have the connection with institutionalized Christianity that previous generations had, and they want specific family and spiritual needs to be met, he says.

"They want something that will give them a spiritual experience," Ailstock says.

Many decide in their mid- to late 30s or early 40s to return to church, he says.

People who have been away should try different types of churches, including other denominations, to find one that is right for their needs, Ailstock suggests.

"I advise people to come with an open mind and to not expect the church to be what it was when they were young children," Ailstock says.

Garfunkel says those wishing to get reconnected shouldn't be shy or hesitant about attending a service.

Those wanting to start back should feel free to talk to their pastor if they have questions, Limmer says.




Sunday used to be the day John and Renea Yodie slept in.

John Yodie says he questioned whether he really wanted to go to church every week, and if he could fit it into his schedule.

"I used to get the feeling if I wasn't going to do it and be sincere, why should I waste my time? I wanted to know I was going for a reason," he says.

He found the reason when the family started attending Presbyterian Church of Hagerstown. He and his wife made a mutual decision to go to church, and they say it was perfect timing.

"We both realized we wanted it and needed it, for ourselves and our children," he says.

The Yodies have three daughters: Carey, 14; Grace, who turns 10 Dec. 22; and Lydia, 7.

Grace's friend, Karly Mummert, invited her to go to Presbyterian Church of Hagerstown, and Grace enjoyed the experience, John Yodie says.

Karly and her parents, Mark and Lisa Mummert, extended the invitation to the rest of the Yodie family. The Yodies began attending services in July 1996 and became members in January.

The Yodies have moved often in the 15 years of their marriage, and they'd never found a church that made them feel comfortable, Renea Yodie says.

She was raised in the Baptist church, and her husband was a Catholic. Both grew up near Pittsburgh, and they moved to Hagers-town nine years ago.

For years they had tried churches of different denominations, and they never found one that worked for them.

At Presbyterian Church of Hagerstown, they feel like they belong, Renea Yodie says.

"We love going; it's a second family kind of feeling," she says.

She says she used to think it was enough to love her neighbors and have no other God, but she realized she needed something more.

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