Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor
One of the earliest conversations I ever had with anyone from St. Paul’s was with Janet Kelly who, as Head Elder at the time, was thinking about Communion during my candidating weekend. We worked out the details and when I got here, I found the Communion table set with the finest silver pieces. It was beautiful! And Communion worked very smoothly that Sunday morning, as I remember.
Over the years, we have had other important conversations about Communion. For example, we expanded intinction to include small cups of juice for people who are immuno-compromised or simply prefer the cups. We have added a variety of breads for World Communion Sunday. We have made it official that all people, including young children, can receive Communion as long as parents approve – and we have had some who did not until Confirmation. We have worked, quite meticulously at times, on the delivery of Communion in the pews, even to the point of diagramming delivery routes for Consistory members who are now Church Council Members. I am sure that professional football teams would have envied the thoroughness of the planning – “OK, you go long, and you post up right here…” We have experimented with whether servers should start in the front and back of the Sanctuary as op-posed to the front and the middle. And we have dedicated portions of Council meetings to actually practicing this stuff.
The changes have been more than logistical. Several years ago, we looked care-fully at the standard Communion liturgy – the one printed on the Communion inserts when we use those, and adapted it to be more gender neutral and theologically correct; for example, there are times it is appropriate to use the name Jesus and times it is appropriate to refer to Christ.
More recently, we added wine along with grape juice during Communion so people could have a choice that suits their past experiences and current preferences. That was a big step and was undertaken quite thoughtfully given that the tradition at St. Paul’s had been to avoid serving wine, at least partly in deference to the presence of AA in the building. In extensive conversations with AA leaders and members, it was clear that the people with whom we spoke fully supported serving wine as long as juice was also offered. A couple of things became very clear: members of AA must deal with the availability of alcohol all around them in the world and in their lives, and AA seeks to pre-pare the person to live in the world and not change the world to suit the person. Indeed one leader with whom I spoke said it would be sad if we didn’t serve wine if there were other reasons to do so. And there are. Especially for people who grew up in the Catholic tradition, Communion is bread and wine. The same is true for individual Protestant congregations as well. So we offer both. (I won’t go into the history of how the Welch’s company got woven into the “tradition” across Protestantism as they lobbied for juice to bolster sales of their product.)
Recently, and quite by accident, some of the kids took wine. I watched as it happened, and I can assure you that they did not like it. Nonetheless, there are a variety of beliefs about whether wine should be available to young people, with some believing it is quite con-sistent with tradition based on parental consent, and at least one other believing that we are “giving kids booze.” We need to think that through together.
We have also experimented with new ways of doing Communion liturgy. That, too, arouses the interest of people with a wide variety of preferences. Some would like to have the full Communion liturgy every Communion Sunday, while others want even more extensive liturgy than that, and still others strongly and strenuously object to components of that liturgy and find that any words at all can get in the way of them fully appreciating the sacrament. So we can dialogue about that also.
I have heard through the grape vine that there are conversations happening now about all of this. And I have asked that the Elders join me in a Congregational Conversation about Communion in general, open to all who are interested in being there and sharing views in a productive forum. The Elders will then share the results of that meeting with the whole Church Council and we will find the best way forward that we can given a wondrous diversity of opinions, needs, and preferences.
So come to Fellowship Hall after the 10:45am service on Sunday, March 10, and be part of the process. We will also have a similar conversation during the 8:30am service and members of Church Council and I will do our best to faithfully make sure what is said is accounted for in any decision-making. I hope to see you there!