On a particular day which I recall vividly, communion was served to congregation members at my church in our seats. This is not always the case. I sang with the choir on that day and was seated on the end next to a good friend.
Both communion and the collection of the offering can be challenging times for me. I work hard to figure out when the trays or offering plate are coming so that I can participate and then pass them along. If the lighting is good, I might see the plate coming if my head is turned in the right direction at the right time. In poor lighting, or if my head is turned the opposite direction, I do not see it coming. When I am seated next to someone who does not know me well, the tray or plate is often passed over me as if I do not exist or cannot handle it responsibly.
The bread plate came from my friend’s end. She passed it to me; and I took my bread and passed it on to the server at the end of the row. The cup plate came from my end. The server refused to hand me the plate and whispered loudly to my friend, “Get her one.” She waited for him to hand it to me, but he repeated his loud whisper. She finally complied and handed the cup to me. He went on, and she passed the plate back down the row. She said sadly, “I guess you’re used to it.”
The fact that she said anything at all was what a friend of mine would call “a moment of grace.” There are some things I want to bury, and there are some things I wish someone would notice and share. Communion is meant to be shared. The passing of the elements is as much an act of sharing as the act of eating and drinking together. My exclusion from the passing felt like an exclusion from the community.
I said, “It makes me mad, but I am used to it. … It makes me angrier when it’s the offering plate–and sometimes they skip me when I have money in my hand.”
She reacted rather emotionally to this, and a barrier was broken. Someone understood. In the past, I tried to talk with people about the experience of being excluded from the passing; but no one ever understood. Several people ad suggested that I learn to appreciate being served. I was unable to appreciate the fact that someone served me because I did not need to be served. I wanted to be connected to the community, not only to be served but to participate in serving the next person. In noticing the exclusion, my friend returned me to the fellowship and freed me to experience and heal from the pain of exclusion. The elements of communion gained a new meaning for me on that day.
William Willimon wrote:
My sense is that pastors will need to expend more of their pastoral energies, in a rootless, mobile society, pondering the requirements for truly Christian koinonia. On Sunday, those elements of worship, those rituals that help unite us, are to be emphasized. Those that fragment and isolate believers from one another are to be avoided. Individual glasses of wine at Communion, individual bits of bread, individual worshipers in silent meditation, solos rather than congregational hymns, are all questionable acts of communal worship in the light of this koinonia principle. Indeed, private meditation is best on other days, in other services of worship.
Sunday is a day to get together, and the pastor, as the leader of worship, bears primary responsibility for gathering the church. (William Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, p. 81)
I mentioned that communion served in the seats was not always the norm. On some occasions, worshipers were invited to communion stations to share communion corporately. Those who could not move to the communion stations were served in their seats. Willimon would probably find this solution one that draws people together in comparison to the serving of communion in individual cups and bread at their seats. However, as one of those who remains at their seats most of the time, I speak to the fact that it is isolating for the minority who are unable to share in the corporate stations.
Let us strive to be truly inclusive in our worship practices. Please pass the elements–or the offering plate–to every person! If the person is unable to hold the tray or plate, find a way to include them in the passing. For even the passing is part of the act of worship.
Want Willimon’s Book?
Ordained ministry, says Willimon, is a gift of God to the church–but that doesn’t mean that it is easy. Always a difficult vocation, changes in society and the church in recent years have made the ordained life all the more complex and challenging. Is the pastor primarily a preacher, a professional caregiver, an administrator? Given the call of all Christians to be ministers to the world, what is the distinctive ministry of the ordained? When does one’s ministry take on the character of prophet, and when does it become that of priest? What are the special ethical obligations and disciplines of the ordained? In this book, Willimon explores these and other central questions about the vocation of ordained ministry.
He begins with a discussion of who pastors are, asking about the theological underpinnings of ordained ministry, and then moves on to what pastors do, looking at the distinctive roles the pastor must fulfill. The book also draws on great teachers of the Christian tradition to demonstrate that, while much about Christian ministry has changed, its core concerns–preaching the word, the care of souls, the sacramental life of congregations–remains the same.
Ordained ministry is a vocation to which we are called, not a profession that we choose. To answer that call is to open oneself to heartache and sometimes hardship; yet, given the one who calls, it is to make oneself available to deep and profound joy as well.