I just finished reading Take This Bread by Sarah Miles. Engrossing and challenging! She captured for me the meaning of communion, and what it means to be Christian. This book is the story (up to this point, anyway) of how she allowed herself to be opened up to God, and how she struggles to make sense of God's presence in her life. I like what she says about the journey:
"Conversions isn't after all, a moment: It's a process, and it keeps happening, with cycles of acceptance and resistance, epiphany and doubt. . . . it stayed hard. I began to understand why so many people chose to be "born-again" and follow strict rules that wyould tell them what to do, once and for all. It was tempting to rely on a formual-"accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior," for example--that became itself a form of idolatry and kept you from experiencing God in your flesh, in the complicated flesh of others. it was tempting to proclaim yourself "saved" and go back to sleep."
A couple of years ago, the deacons (I was one of them) of my church engaged in a study/prayerful discussion of what communion meant and how we should offer it. We read theology, talked about our own beliefs, and prayed a lot. Ultimately we came up with this statement which appears in our bulletin on communion Sundays. (In our church - the first Sunday of the month)
In October 2004, after much thoughtful discussion and prayer, the Deacons reached the following understanding:
Jesus spoke always about God’s unceasing love for us. Jesus also promised that all who came seeking God’s presence, would find it. Jesus never turned anyone away from him and welcomed all who welcomed him and his message. Jesus invites us to join him at his table. It is Jesus who hosts this table and welcomes all who wish to come to it. Therefore, if you seek the presence of God in your life, if you hunger and thirst and wish to be nourished by God’s boundless love, if you wish to come to the meal, you are welcome.
We opened up Communion to anyone who desired to be fed, and for us, it's no longer an exclusive meal to be shared with those in the club. Children of all ages are welcome at our table too.
Our church is struggling right now -- an aging congregation, strapped finances, burned out leadership. We are in a pastoral search too, and we're working on changing our organizational structure. At the same time, we are a "doing" church -- we hold monthly community suppers, run an emergency shelter, a very busy food pantry, and we host AA groups, and a grief group. We are "Open and Affirming" and work hard for social justice on a number of fronts. Sometimes though we get so busy acting out our faith that we don't nourish it enough, or we become blind to the fact that our actions are how we are experiencing God in our midst. Instead we focus on how hard and exhausting our lives are. It's helpful for me to see how others have struggled -- I'm able to refocus and see things from a different perspective.
And I'm giving myself some time to nourish myself. I have just stepped down from a significant leadership position at church that I've filled for 8 or 9 years. I recognized the burnout signs. It's time to step back, regroup, and let go. For a while anyway!