At the recent joint meeting between the Church Board and the Ministry Team, the subject of communion came up in a brief discussion. Specifically:
A preferred method of distribution and participation
The variety of distribution methods
The participation of children
Clarity of communication from the pastor
During Holy Week, we observed this special celebration of the last supper on both Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday morning, doing it differently each time, and this seems to have brought the conversation to the surface.
So, with this note I'd like to offer some perspective. Obviously, a complete theology and praxis can't be provided here, but I can give you some windows toward doing your own prayerful reflection.
A key point of distinction is whether the Lord's table is open to all who have "abandoned their nets" to follow Jesus, or only to those who are identified as members of our specific congregation. This is sometimes called open vs. closed communion. Mennonite congregations can be found that take both approaches. It is the result of being congregational rather than forced to observe it a specific way from a central church authority. My own understanding ties to how I believe Jesus inaugurated the first of these celebrations, serving ALL in the room, including those whose hearts were set on betrayal, denial and disbelief.
I will readily admit that I have NO PATIENCE for debates about a preferred method of distribution. I've been at it too long and yelled at for everything by this point - the wrong color of grape juice, the lights being down too low, whether or not communion should be at the beginning or end of the service, how hygiene is observed or not, preference for or against a common cup or distributed cup, the expected use of unleavened bread or no, whether or not bread is torn during a prayer of dedication or pre-torn to make distribution easier, intinction, bread that is expected to be gluten laden or free, and it goes on and on. The guiding light in all this that I choose to follow is to put the service together so that we are conscious that we are sharing with Jesus and all those who precede us in this special commemoration. Even more, we want to build the sense we are a continuing community of disciples who have pledged our lives to the service of our Savior.
I want children to be welcome in all aspects of a worship service. Some Mennonite congregations have made communion observance a privilege only for adult members. Some restrict it to anyone who has been baptized. Others have allowed children to participate at any age. It goes back to the question of how open or how closed a communion observance is. It also gets complicated by the variety of church traditions our people come from and how they were nurtured toward participation in the congregations where they grew up. The one bridge I've found effective through the years is to invite parents to discern with their children when they are ready, rather than trying to discern it myself. Note: I'm aware that there was confusion about this during our last communion observance. I'd like to resolve this in the future by making sure there is an opportunity for all children to receive a blessing, especially when we come forward to receive. We can than continue to suggest parents work with their children to discern the point of readiness and understanding of what communion means so that they can participate at the proper time.
The observance of the Lord's supper is not about our preferred tradition. Can I say it that plainly? It is about reminding ourselves of the center and ground of our being, and that we have joined the community that Jesus established. If we are pushing hard for our preference communion elements of sourdough gluten-free bread and a merlot rather than a pinot noir as the grape that was crushed, it seems pretty clear that we've made it about the individual rather than the community that joins Jesus in his suffering and the promise of new life.
If this raises further thoughts or points for discussion, I'm happy to hear from you.