I should have written about Andrew Thompson's recent UM Reporter column days ago, but a hectic work schedule and information overload contributed to my procrastination. Those are my excuses anyway.
You should read Andrew's column in its entirety, but in case you haven't yet, here are two of his main points:
Churches should practice Communion as often as possible, at least monthly, but preferably weekly.
We need to rethink our open table.
I hope I didn't oversimplify things-- there's obviously more to Andrew's column than this, but these two ideas are what I walked away with after a couple of readings.
There was a time when I would have fought Andrew on both of these points. Now I've definitely come around on the first one-- I have reservations about number two.
The church I went to for years practiced Communion monthly, like clockwork on the first Sunday. And I won't lie, I didn't always have a good attitude about the amount of time it added to the service. I was rarely enthusiastic about the Lord's Supper. The regular service I attend at my current church has weekly Communion, and I look forward to the sacrament every week now. (See my post "I'm a Weekly Communion Convert" for more background info.) So what gives? I have a couple of ideas.
At my other church, the pastor (who's a good friend of mine) seemed to center the service around the sermon. It was not unusual for the message to last 30 to 45 minutes and the entire service would run 75 to 90 minutes, even without communion. Communion Sunday services sometimes ran from 10:45 to 12:30. It's almost like on the Oscars telecast when they rush through the biggest award at the end, yet spend fifteen minutes on a song and dance routine at the beginning. It just doesn't make sense. There's a danger of the main event becoming an afterthought. I think that's what happened at my other church. Because we tried to pack so much into the service and failed to handle transitions well, people were literally exhausted by the time we reached Communion. (By then we needed the juice and bread almost as much for physical nourishment as spiritual!) The service I attend now blends everything together without one part becoming the main event. Because Communion is weekly, it seems to be the climax of the service rather than something tacked on to the end. And somehow, because of good transitioning, we manage to include 4 or 5 songs, two lectionary readings, announcements (yuck!), a sermon of at least 15 or 20 minutes (sometimes more), passing the peace, and yes, Communion. And we rarely go over an hour. It can be done, ladies and gentlemen.As for our open table policy, I've seen God work through it, but that isn't always an argument for leaving something the way it is. In my experience with urban youth ministry, I've seen God touch a number of unchurched (and unbaptized) kids through the sacrament. I'm a believer in the idea that supernatural stuff happens during rituals, things we don't always see at the time. But when we allow everyone to receive Communion, are we being too casual about the sacrament as Andrew has suggested? I'm not sure about that, but he has given me a lot to think about. I'm trying to picture how we could pull off closed Communion in our churches, even if we wanted to, without seeming too "exclusive". Any thoughts?