Rethinking Communion

You will have to be patient with me because this is something that I am still working out in my heart and head, but I wanted to start the process of working through it and have some interaction with different perspectives, etc.

I think the sacraments are highly important within the life of a church. As a United Methodist, this means that I believe that baptism and communion should be a foundation in the life of any church. However, lately I have been wondering if there isn’t a disconnect between our words and the way we practice one of those sacraments: Holy Communion.

This disconnect first hit me a couple of weeks ago when I was at a weekend senior high youth event here in Minnesota. As part of the gathering it has been the practice to celebrate (please note that word) communion on Saturday evening in a dark room by candlelight with soft music playing. It is a powerful time for many of the youth and they often are moved to tears and you can witness the lingering hugs of support and comfort that go on well past the partaking in the sacrament.

Now I am not trying to say that this is necessarily bad, but for some reason it just didn’t seem right. It seemed like this sad time and it functioned as a time of almost movement toward confession and repentance (good things, don’t get me wrong). However, the words of the Great Thanksgiving are ones that are of celebration. Hosanna. Thanks. Praise. When I think of hosanna, thanks, and praise I think of joy. I see pictures of people dancing and clapping and shouting for joy. Perhaps they are weeping, but weeping tears of joy with smiles on their faces.

That is when the wheels began to turn in my head. Have we in practice turned this moment of joy and anticipation into a moment of somberness and sadness? I began to wonder why our practice of Holy Communion within worship usually is so somber and serious. I understand being reverent to the holy moment, but why must reverence be quiet and somber? I started to think about all the elements that go into The Great Thanksgiving Liturgy in most of the churches I have participated in and how the music is often slow and serious. How the words aren’t said or shouted with joy but rather are said in a serious tone.

Why do we do this? Why do we recite words that speak of such joy and not have an atmosphere that reflects it? Why does communion seem more like the beginning of confession rather than a response in joy and thanksgiving that the sins we confessed do not mean death for us because of the life giving love of God we are celebrating?

Let me sidetrack us for a second. Can you imagine a Thanksgiving meal (you know with the Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Corn, Cranberries, Stuffing, etc.) in a home being celebrated like we often celebrate Holy Communion? Everyone sitting around the table, serious and calm and not wanting to open their mouth out of fear of ruining the celebration. (apparently not many people can because I really tried to find an image of a thanksgiving meal where the people weren’t talking and enjoying one another’s company and generally looking thankful to be with one another) Who would want to be a part of that? Yet, our thanksgiving meal where we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord is often celebrated in such a way.

What would happen if we really “celebrated” communion? Would it change how we looked at our faith? Would we begin to really be thankful and to really feel in our hearts the joy that comes from the reality we are celebrating? Can we imagine a celebration of communion where people are clapping, joyfully singing, and joining together in praise to a God that has shown such great love?

I want to work this out more but I wonder if I am the only one? Am I wrong? Let me know what you think in the comment section.

(Now do understand that I know that communion is powerful either way and that the true power of communion comes through the presence of Christ there with us in the meal and the grace that is received. I am just wondering if there is a disconnect between the words and how the practice has functioned within worship)

The Power of Positive Thinking

Okay, so I don’t really buy into that whole “If you think positive, positive things will start happening to you….” stuff. Really, I don’t. However, I have realized in my short 3.5 years of ministry that communicating positive things is essential.

Now, that comes easy for some people. You know…those people who always have a “pep in their step” and even on a stormy, cloudy, and gloomy day can still list off what is great about the day. Those people who can frame any situation with positivity (sometimes it can get sickening). Well, yeah one of those people I am not. I think I have figured out why I am not that way and I trace it roots to my early childhood and the desire to be the best so my father would want to have something to do with me. (hey I was 7 years old….) I became a perfectionist (my mother would say that I was this way well before 7 and that I cried when I got a bad grade in preschool..yep we got letter grades at Green Pastures school). As a perfectionist I was never satisfied and I always looked at a situation and tried to figure out what I could do better. This continued on as I grew older and it would drive me crazy whenever there was that little dash behind the A on my report card.

Now if only that would have stayed within the framework of school, but it didn’t. I constantly evaluate myself and the situations I find myself in and try to think of how I could have done better or how “we” could do better. Any success is taken for granted because that is the way it should be. What this leads to is a lack of celebrating the accomplishments and seeing the good changes that our happening.

I witnessed this first hand in my first pastoral appointment. I came it with that mindset and was always looking at what we could do better. I failed to celebrate the things that we were doing well and I failed to witness to the ways that God was moving in great ways within peoples’ lives and the life of the church. Shockingly (okay it was a shock to me at the time) this didn’t work to motivate people. It depressed people and cultivated a sense of hopelessness and negativity. After I knew I was going to be moving to another appointment I discovered the important lesson of celebrating the victories and I quickly saw the attitude of the church change. It wasn’t like the situation changed, but attitudes began to change and hope began to spring. New ideas came forth and new people found their voices, etc. We began to tell a different story. (all a little too late…..lesson learned)

Well, here I sit a year and a half into my second appointment and again I see how my “perfectionist” ways color my perception of the context. I look around and quickly come to conclusions of what we can do better, but because I learned a bit I am also trying to celebrate the “victories.” This is hard work for me. It is hard for me to celebrate, because there is always a longing for more and a knowledge that we can be so much more. But if I don’t celebrate, the culture can’t change. So I have tried to share the stories of movements within the life of the church. Two young boys in elementary school who both took from their own money to help build wells in Liberia through our Advent Conspiracy participation. A family who funded an entire well by their single contribution. A homeless man getting his truck fixed through our benevolence fund which allowed him to get a job that requires reliable transportation. Individuals longing for deeper connection with one another and God who are starting to meet in a home weekly. I could go on with a few more.

The stories are there, but how often are we sharing them? Two weeks ago after a council meeting where we discussed the budget and all the joys that come with that (sarcasm intended), I wrote four questions on the board in my office. The third question I wrote has been continually running through my mind:

How do we create a culture of hope, possibilities, and encouragement instead of a culture of hopelessness, limitations, and discouragement?

Our story has been dominated by who we should be and who we are becoming as two congregations recently merged and moving towards re-birth. But I am afraid we are forgetting to share the great things that God is doing and has given us which point to the hope and possibility that comes through God. We see “financial drain” of buildings. We see a lack of younger adults. We see that we aren’t the church we once were. We see the reality that our finances just don’t match up.

I have to catch myself sometimes (and most of the times I fail) as I add to this culture. I am really trying to help be a catalyst for change and I think the biggest way this is going to happen is by sharing the amazing stories that have happened and are happening. Some positive thinking could really help us open our eyes and ears to see just how God is calling us in our re-birth efforts.

Maybe I need to find some old Stuart Smalley video clips to help me get positive and help change the culture. A little affirmation could go along way….