When I was a child the church I attended had the tradition of "first communion." We had to wait until after confirmation, usually in the eighth grade. Then, on confirmation Sunday, we received our first communion. It was a big event. We had communion 4 regular times a year and then on special occasions. The Deacons served communion and in those days the Deaconesses prepared Communion and cleaned up afterward. We passed the communion tray down the pew and everyone took a little cup and wafer or piece of bread. The minister told us to eat the bread as it was passed but to hold the cup so we could drink together. I thought it was wonderful.
Over time the tradition changed. One minister who influenced me greatly thought of communion as the inmost gathering of the church, which meant only baptized members of the church could share the meal. Another minister, who also had a great influence on me, believed in open communion. He taught that anyone of any age could come to the table. Christians and the curious were welcome. Those different ideas about who can share communion still persist in the church today.
More and more, I think, churches celebrate communion at least once a month. At our church we celebrate communion every Sunday. We no longer depend on deacons and deaconesses. This congregation is exceptional because members of the congregation may preside at communion.
The unity of the church is more than a nice idea. The church is often said to be a sign and a demonstration of a new community. Recently the World Council of Churches met in Karlsruhe, Germany. They elected a new executive committee to govern the Council. It’s extraordinary. Twenty people from countries as diverse as China, Turkey, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, and Korea serve on this committee. Women and men of diverse backgrounds, representing more than 500 million people and more than 110 countries are members of the World Council of Churches. They work together to promote a culture of peace.
Last week Sally and I attended a meeting of community members and the police. The police called the meeting because they wanted to talk about a new program they were starting to reduce gun violence in our area. The community members wanted to talk about racism, jobs, and economic empowerment. Sally and I left the meeting wondering what is the ministry of the church in this situation, which is not happening in Karlsruhe or Assisi, but right here at our doorstep.
Rev. Dr. David Hansen