Sacrament of Communion
It had to have been the spring semester of 2003 when Prince Dorough, my choir director from Illinois Central College, referred me to a church that was seeking a part-time choir director for the upcoming school year. Prince had to have either held a great deal of confidence in my potential, or he was completely oblivious to my skill level because I had never directed a choir before, and I lacked any inkling of confidence in doing so.
Well, they must not have had anybody else apply because after a brief interview and "audition" where I taught the choir a song, I was offered the job. This put me outside of my comfort zone in more ways than one. Apart from the obvious lack of experience directing a choir, I was transferring that next fall to a 4-year school, and this church was located in a rural area outside of Pekin about 40 miles from campus. At the time, I drove a late 1970s El Camino that was missing its muffler and had shocks so bad that everybody thought I had hydraulics installed. This seemed like a pretty long distance to drive this ancient hunk of junk twice a week.
Second, this was a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, which was the first church I'd gone to that I would describe as "High Church." Prior to going there, all my church experiences had seemed much less structured and formalized. I grew up in the Mennonite Church, I sang in the choir at a Methodist Church, and I was part of a college group at a Presbyterian Church. Here, the service was focused around the liturgy and closely followed the church calendar, which was new to me.
This was the first time I'd been part of a church where the pastor wore a collar and robes. The one page "bulletin" that I was used to from other churches was about 10 pages there, full of responsive readings, scripture passages, and titles to each portion of the service. Kids took unfamiliar roles in the services, serving as either the crucifer or as the acolytes.
I didn't really understand the significance of these traditions, and still don't to be perfectly honest, but I knew that different people worship the same God in different ways, and I believe that's a good thing and points to the vastness of God. Most of these traditions, however, never really spoke to me, but I was okay with that. What didn't sit right with me, though, was the way Communion was done.
Prior to my first Sunday there, the pastor sat down with me to talk about my faith background, and he informed me that even though I wasn't a member of the church, I would be welcome to take the Eucharist with them. This threw me for such a loop. You have to be a member to take Communion here? The pastor can determine if somebody is fit for it or not? Membership in the congregation is an indicator of being fit for this sacrament?
From what I gather, the determination to do a closed Communion was mostly based around the warnings in 1 Corinthians 11 about taking it in "an unworthy manner." They took this passage seriously and wanted to protect people. My Mennonite tradition took this passage seriously, too. But instead of closing off the table, we read that passage prior to Communion to let people decide for themselves if they would be taking it in such a manner. It felt weird to me to exclude people from the body and the blood of Christ by default.
Really, that's what it comes down to in closed Communion: the default position is that of unworthiness, unless you can show otherwise, either by being a member of the church or talking to the pastor. My tradition assumed the opposite position: that of worthiness, unless you decide for yourself or are convicted in believing that you're not.
I guess if I really think about it, though, I can see where both default stances come from. We can find passages that declare us both worthy and unworthy all throughout scripture. In Romans, "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," seems to say we're all unworthy. In Galatians, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me," would imply that we're worthy because Jesus makes us so. I'm sure there are countless other verses pointing toward both positions.
In the end, though, I err on the side of grace. I see Jesus' inclusion, and I believe I need to live the same way. During my two years there, I never took Communion, not because I thought it was wrong, but because it just didn't sit right with me to partake in something that was closed off to so many others. By the time my tenure was done, I missed it. I was grateful to visit the church I grew up in where I could partake freely with anyone else who wanted to. I'm grateful that I've found this community that not only takes holds the default position of worthiness, but that also intentionally tries to remove barriers to the table.
I want to make it clear that my differences there were ideological. The church was full of incredibly kind people who treated me, each other, and the community with a great deal of kindness and love.
Danny is a Christ follower, father to three awesome kids, and a musician. He can be seen most Sundays jumping around from instrument to instrument, and although he's usually gross and sweaty afterward, feel free to talk to him anyway. They say that cat Danny is one bad motha...Shut your mouth. But I'm talking 'bout Danny. We can dig it.