Communion has been a topic for reflection and conversation among us over the last several months. During Advent 2013, we read and reflected on the book Take this Bread by Sara Miles. The book tells the story of how a secular young woman, skeptical about church, was drawn in, and transformed, through participation in the Eucharist. It was the physical act of eating and drinking together in memory of Jesus that helped her to experience the earthy reality of the gospel. Her participation in communion led her to begin a food pantry that inspired the creation of other food pantries throughout the city of San Francisco.
Then on January 22, 2014 a few of us from the congregation participated in a leaders’ workshop sponsored by MCEC on the topic of communion. Arnold Snyder was one of the presenters. We reflected on the distance between our current context and that of the early Anabaptists. For our early forebears, the Lord’s Supper was a solemn ritual of communal accountability and obedience. It was reserved for the baptized who had pledged their allegiance to Christ under threat of persecution. For many reasons we have moved away from the high level of accountability with respect to communion. We live in an increasingly secular culture and instead of wanting to stress boundaries and public pledges, we’re looking for ways of being hospitable and welcoming. Mennonites today are generally stressing the “grace” dimension of communion more than the “commitment” part.
In April we hosted a special weekend with professor Irma Fast Dueck from Canadian Mennonite University. We talked about the relationship between baptism and communion. Irma said that this is the first time in Christian history where people are identifying themselves as Christian apart from baptism. Many believers no longer understand baptism to be a prerequisite for communion. For a growing number of spiritually minded people, there seems to be an aversion to making promises through public rituals. Just as many younger believers are putting off baptism, they are also putting off marriage, not seeing the meaning or necessity of the ritual. Irma was encouraging the church to maintain the traditional link between baptism and communion, but to find new and more flexible ways of doing so.
The Rockway Church Ministry Council has a special interest in communion because of our role of overseeing the “spiritual ministry of the church”, as stated in our job description. The spiritual ministry means in part to attend to our central practices of baptism, communion and membership. As pastor I’ve been working with the Ministry Council to summarize what we’ve been learning about com-munion this year. We are wanting to maintain the central tension and interplay between the two dimensions that seem to be part of most encounters with Christ in the gospels. When people met Jesus, they experienced acceptance and also the invitation to repent. Jesus offered welcoming grace but also the call to follow him in his mission.
We are therefore wanting to maintain the theological relationship between baptism and communion, but are looking for ways of being more flexible, open and inclusive. We believe that in our culture, communion may also serve as an entry point into the experience of faith and not only as a re-commitment for those already baptized. On Sunday, June 22, we will be hosting a first-hour session to share our views in more detail and to summarize our approach as we move forward. We welcome your thoughts and questions. We hope to see you there.