Tag Archives: communion

Faith and Life Through Communion

By Jerrell Williams, Associate for Leadership Cultivation

On August 8 and 9, around 30 credentialed leaders of both Franconia and Eastern District Conferences assembled for the quarterly Faith and Life gathering organized by the Faith and Life Commission. The group gathered to talk about the Mennonite perspective of communion. Our time began with prayer and introductions. We centered our time by looking at Luke 22:14-20, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, and Article 12 of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.

Different table groups decided to focus on different things within their conversation. Some of us were more concerned with the amount of times our churches participate in communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper, while some were more focused on who was welcomed to partake in communion. Another group focused on the meaning of communion as a way of justice. The table becomes a place where we can all come together, no matter one’s economic class.

The table that I sat at focused heavily on how one is to prepare for communion. We discussed the concepts of confessing our sins before coming to the table for communion, as we are to be at peace with God and our brothers and sisters. We shared our experiences of how we have experienced communion and how that has impacted the way we practice today. We also discussed who could participate in the Lord’s Supper.

As the conversations were happening around the tables, two of the Faith and Life Commission members gleaned from what the tables were saying and as the conversations began to end, they summarized for the large group what they heard from the different tables. As they summarized what had been shared around the room, one of the Commission members asked an important question. They first stated that Article 12 in the Confession of Faith says, “All are invited to the Lord’s table who have been baptized into the community of faith, are living at peace with God and with their brothers and sisters in the faith and are willing to be accountable in their congregation.” The leader then asked how many of us require a person to be baptized before they partake in communion as stated in the Confession of Faith.

We ended our meeting with the unanswered question of what this means for us. Where do we go from here? What is communion and who should be able to partake? This conversation has brought to light new questions that many seemed excited to dig deeper into.

Holy Longing for Communion

By Mike Clemmer

Communion photoRecently, I had an intriguing conversation about communion with a friend who worships at a local Catholic parish.  He described his weekly experience of partaking the Holy Eucharist as being “a powerful, mysterious, holy event that brings [him] into the very presence of God – and therefore, something [he] needs to experience every week.”  As I quietly reflected on my own experience at the Lord’s Table, somehow I felt as if I was missing something very important in my faith. In fact, his statement challenged me to think more intentionally about my own thoughts about communion.

Indeed, my theology as it relates to communion differs from my Catholic friend. For him, the Eucharist is a sacrament, the very embodiment of Jesus, and the invitation for him to experience the presence of Christ. For me, it is a sign through which we as believers remember the new covenant established by Jesus through his death and resurrection as well as a recommitment to one another in the church. His belief seems to highlight the individual’s experience while mine emphasizes the community’s witness of togetherness.  After reflecting on these differences, I wonder if there are not several important things for me to learn from my Catholic friend.

One thing to learn is the importance of intentionally putting ourselves in holy places where we can simply be in God’s presence more often. I believe that the Lord’s Table is one of these holy places because as our Confession of Faith states, “When Christians eat the bread and drink the cup, they experience Christ’s presence in their midst.”  God’s Spirit works mightily when we are in God’s presence. Yet, as I surveyed churches in our Franconia and Eastern District Conferences, I found that most practice Communion less than 4 times a year and even those with the most frequency only come to the table once a month. I wonder, how often we should be placing ourselves into the holy place of Communion?

Another thing (which perhaps is more of a reminder than a new learning) is that through Communion, the Lord’s Supper, we practice community at its very core. All are welcome at the table. There is not a place of special prestige or honor, nor is there any room for exclusion.  We all eat the same bread and drink from the same cup. Despite our disagreements and differences, the community still is called together to serve and minister through the strength of the meal shared together. When my friend shared with me his experience with the Holy Eucharist, he reminded me that the practice of community through Communion is one of the greatest witnesses that we have in the world today.

And finally, in many ways, we need to allow for the mystery of God to shape us, move us, and call us to a closer relationship with Jesus. Our faith is not something that can be figured out. In fact, the way God works is rarely the way I think God should work. And so, through God’s mystery, Communion is very personal and individual.  One of the pastors that I spoke to about Communion described the mystery of experiencing God’s presence when he shared Communion at the bedside of a person at life’s end. He could not put words on what happened in that holy place, but God’s presence had a profound effect on him and all that were in the room. Thanks to my friend’s sharing, I find myself in a place of holy longing to experience God’s mystery in my life in a new way – and I can’t wait until the next time that I can share Communion with my other brothers and sisters in Christ.

Mike Clemmer is Lead Pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church, and a LEADership Minister for Franconia Conference.

Holding joy and sadness in tension: The Lord’s Supper

by Gwen Groff, Bethany

Gwen GroffAt Bethany we share communion at least three times each year. Our first communion service is in January when we renew our annual membership covenant with each other. Our system of membership at Bethany is an odd hybrid. We can become members by taking a membership class and being baptized or by transferring a letter of membership from another congregation, and we can become members by annually affirming our covenant with this congregation. When we renew our membership covenant each January, affirming that we intend to walk with this particular group of people and uphold our commitments to what we state in our covenant, we mark this by celebrating communion together.

This is one of the times that I most feel the difference between the Mennonite congregation in which I grew up and the Mennonite congregation of which I am now a part. I grew up seeing communion as a very somber service in which people wore dark clothes and often wept. I recall preparatory services the week before the communion services in which members filed into a small anteroom and shook hands with the bishop and declared that we were “at peace with God and our fellow men.” Members were warned not to eat and drink “unworthily,” thereby eating and drinking “damnation unto himself.”

By comparison, our communion services at Bethany feel very open, perhaps even lax. I invite people to come forward to receive the bread and cup with the words, “This is the Lord’s table and all are welcome.” I do not ask if someone has been baptized or is a church member. This seems not very Anabaptist. It does however seem to be in keeping with what Jesus did in sharing the table with anyone who wanted to eat with him.

The Bethany communion service that I most enjoy is part of our annual outdoor service. Each summer I mow a labyrinth into the grass in the back lawn and at our outdoor service we take the bread and cup just before we begin walking the the labyrinth together. We walk into the middle of the labyrinth in silence, pause in the center circle, and come back out again. Some people look into the faces of others they pass going the opposite direction, some look down, some are chewing the bread, many are barefoot. Some children are held in their parents’ arms. Most of the children enter the labyrinth at the front of the line and run to the center ahead of the adults. There they receive a spoken blessing from one of the servers, “You are known and loved by God,” and are given grapes and crackers. They run or walk back out, passing the adults who are still on their way in. The adults walk more slowly and contemplatively.

I usually take the bread and cup to the older people who are unable to walk the labyrinth and are seated on the grass that is slightly higher than the labyrinth. I love to look out across the people walking and see our congregation moving as one, like a giant organism on the grass. Sometimes we are a little crowded as we walk but we have not outgrown the practical limits of this ritual. The service is full of laughter and reflection, movement and epiphanies. If the labyrinth symbolizes our spiritual path, the bread and cup represent nourishment for the journey.

Our other communion celebration is part of our Good Friday service. This communion meal seems to be most in the spirit of the first Last Supper. It holds together the joy of the Passover celebration, remembering liberation from slavery, with the grief of the looming death of Jesus.  It focuses on the stated purpose of communion — doing this in remembrance of Jesus — reminding us of his life, death and resurrection. The service is virtually the same every year. We eat a simple meal together in the church basement on Good Friday evening. We read aloud the Passion account from one of the gospels, we sing, we serve one another the bread and cup, and we leave in silence.

I value something about each of these three services. In the January communion service, I appreciate the emphasis on our covenanted commitment to God and one another. I appreciate the symbolism of nourishment for our faith journeys that is part of the summer communion service. And I appreciate the remembrance of the first Lord’s supper that is part of our Good Friday service. What I love about all of them is the way the communion ritual holds in tension joy and sadness. Words can’t make sense of that paradox, “proclaiming the Lord’s death.” But ritual does.

Broken bread for a broken system

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

communion handsIt’s a misty evening as I sit cuddled under a blanket with my laptop and a snoring dog, watching the presidential debate.  Even as I type, President Obama and Governor Romney are debating the economy.

I feel my temperature rising, and it has nothing to do with the blanket.  I grew up in a family in which “debate” sounds more like calm discussion and a stern voice feels like yelling.  Just watching the debate is feeding my anxiety.

And, if anyone else experiences conflict like I do, the election this coming November could be incredibly divisive for the church.  And how much moreso, when you mix people like me with those who are very comfortable with debate, raised voices, and hearty conversation?  How do we keep our eyes focused on our shared allegiance—to Jesus Christ—in the midst of such diversity and disagreement?

Leaders in Mennonite churches across the nation suggest a simple answer: Election Day Communion.  “Election Day Communion is a way of engaging and resisting the world,” reflected Joe Hackman, pastor at Salford (Harleysville, Pa.) congregation, who will be hosting Election Day Communion this November.  “It’s a small demonstration of being the peace of Christ in a noisy, partisan culture—a sort of countercultural statement about what we believe ultimately holds our politics together.”

“During the day of November 6, 2012, we will make different choices for different reasons, hoping for different results,” the Election Day Communion website says. “But that evening while our nation turns its attention to the outcome of the presidential election, let’s again choose differently. But this time, let’s do it together.”

Tuesday night communion is not a new idea—Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches have held Tuesday communion services for generations.  And Election Day Communion doesn’t just belong to Mennonites.  Doylestown (Pa.) congregation will be hosting an ecumenical service, according to associate pastor KrisAnne Swartley.  “We are inviting other area churches outside the Mennonite denomination to partner with us in planning the service,” she said.  “We want to cross all kinds of cultural dividing lines in this communion service—we know that God’s Kingdom of love also crosses all boundaries.”

Wayne Nitzsche and the elder team at Perkasie (Pa.) congregation plan to keep the service simple.  “Our church mission statement is ‘to model Jesus,’” Nitzsche said.  “As we come together the evening of November 6, we’ll model Jesus in some small way as we remember that Jesus non-violently addressed the political powers and established a new [politic] of love. We love as he loved as we eat and drink with those who voted and those who didn’t.  ALL will be welcomed at the table.”

As I type, I feel my heartbeat slowing.  Governor Romney and President Obama are still battling it out in the background, but the rhetoric no longer feeds my anxiety.  There is hope.  “God continues to demonstrate that another world is possible,” said Chris Nickels, pastor of Spring Mount (Pa.) congregation. “There is a path that leads out of a divisive cultural reality and Christ invites us to come to the table to take a step forward together.”

Where will you spend the evening on Election Day?  Find a list of congregations hosting Election Day Communion services on the official website.

Election Day Communion