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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Open Communion, open communion, open God

(ed.'s note: This series is written in response to a recent article in "The Christian Century" on communion practices within Christian congregations.)


This wonderful essay by Charles Hefling has got me thinking about what "communion" is these days in most Christian congregations. To his brief, yet to my mind accurate, understanding of where local congregational practices of communion are these days and how they got there, I would add this observation: the younger you are the more you desire communion. What I mean is this.



When I visit "emergence" congregations, or congregations for which "convergence" is a prime value, I get a lot more young people in my experience. I also get communion more frequently. Conversely, when I visit congregations in more mainline or evangelical traditions I get more older people in my experience. And communion less frequently. (I always ask about communion policy prior to worship, as I practice weekly communion...high church Swedish background.) Funny, but it is almost as if one could say that the more frequently you offer communion, the younger the average age of your congregation is. (And yes, friends who practice weekly Eucharist but have a congregation with an aging population, this is not a hard and fast rule. But you knew that...)

Hefling makes a good distinction between a congregation that practices "Open Communion" and a congregation that practices "Open Table." Open communion is the practice most in the Christian tradition are familiar with, in that communion is open to all baptized believers (except in those traditions that practice "closed" communion--only members of that tradition may receive communion). Open communions hold that regardless of which Christian tradition you are from or in which you currently reside you are welcome to receive communion. Open Table practices offer communion to anyone, even those who may not be baptized. These congregations also, de facto, offer it to people who may not believe, but as the Apostle Paul points out to the folks in Corinth, to participate in such an activity points to your own condemnation as a hypocrite. Why would you do something you do not believe in?

I like the essay as a way to get at the most popular ways to practice communion: closed communion, open communion, and open table. What I liked best about the essay, however, was his hinting that a congregations' communion practice has more to do with God's grace than whatever the congregation wishes to offer. In other words, communion is a sacrament before it is a congregational practice. That kind of thinking is few and far between these days.

A sacrament, to those Christians who stand in the more classical vein of Christianity, that is, you--my gentle readers, is God's subjectivity upon human objectivity. God is the subjective mover and humanity is the objective recipient in a sacrament. God gives, we receive. In a true sacrament, human activity means very little to the effect of the sacrament. What matters in a sacrament is what God does, not what humans do or do not do. (You cannot, for example, swipe a credit card and get God's grace--Closeout sale! Nor, does it mean that you have to have rid yourself of all sin in order to receive it--you guilty dog!) Hefling does a good job of trying to make sense of a congregation's communion practice in light seeing the bread and wine as sacramentum of God.

Regardless of our congregation's policy, this is the question for us who receive communion: what are we expecting from God in this bread and wine? Can we live with the grace we receive? Can we actually stand under a God who would give up body and blood so that we may live, so that we may have life, and have it abundantly? That's a sacrament, that's communion.

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.


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