Tuesday, December 02, 2008

It's My View

Shrimp here. The "My View" section of The Lutheran magazine strikes again with "Let's eat! All are welcome" by a Kathy Schuen, who "serves as worship leader of the ALIVE! emerging church service at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Portage, Mich."

Writes Ms. Schuen,
Historically the sacrament of communion has been offered only to baptized members of the church for the purpose of strengthening their faith. Used in this way there's solid theological ground for offering the bread and wine to all the baptized, including children (as readers noted in The Lutheran, March, "A feast for all").
Can you guess where this is going. Hint: this monthly guest column is entitled "My View," not "The Church's View." Ready?
However, at our alternative worship gathering we offer the word and the eucharistic feast to anyone who comes to the table, whether baptized or unbaptized. In addition to strengthening the faith of the baptized, we pray it will provide a point of entry for those who initially have little or no faith to strengthen.

Can the sacrament of communion create faith where there is none?

Consider the example of Sara Miles, who wrote about such an experience in Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion (Ballantine Books, February 2007). Miles initially experienced the life-transforming presence of Jesus Christ in her first taste of communion bread, which she encountered as an unbaptized adult. She has since begun, and currently maintains, many food pantries. The first one was opened at her home church. No inquiries are made regarding income level or resident status of those who come for food. Faithful to the spirit in which their church's eucharist is offered, all are welcome at their table.
Yup, "their church's eucharist." As for the Lord's Supper, well, we know better in this enlightened age. As for Sara Miles, did you click the link to see how Ballentine Books describes her book?
Early one morning, for no earthly reason, Sara Miles, raised an atheist, wandered into a church, received communion, and found herself transformed–embracing a faith she’d once scorned. A lesbian left-wing...
[sigh! Ya just knew that was going to get in somehow...]
...journalist who’d covered revolutions around the world, Miles didn’t discover a religion that was about angels or good behavior or piety; her faith centered on real hunger, real food, and real bodies. Before long, she turned the bread she ate at communion into tons of groceries, piled on the church’s altar to be given away. Within a few years, she and the people she served had started nearly a dozen food pantries in the poorest parts of their city.

Take This Bread is rich with real-life Dickensian characters–church ladies, millionaires, schizophrenics, bishops, and thieves–all blown into Miles’s life by the relentless force of her newfound calling. Here, in this achingly beautiful, passionate book, is the living communion of Christ.
But Shrimp digresses. Back to "My View" in The Lutheran, where Kathy Schuen concludes,
We can emulate that spirit of hospitality in our worship. As Jesus says in John 6:35: "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

We can, through communion, make this bread of life freely available to all—if we so choose. Let's eat!
Indeed, it is all up to us. How dare we exclude anyone, for we know that Jesus welcomed everyone. Right?.

For more about "ALIVE!" see this article from the Kalamazoo Gazette and this article from the August 2008 issue of the North/West Lower Michigan Synod newsletter.

Isn't is grand to know that well-thought out Lutheran theology continues to reign at The Lutheran? (Or is that, "Isn't it grand to know that well-thought-out theology is reined in at The Lutheran?) Shrimp out.


Grace Alone said...

I have recently read Ms Mile's book, and find that there is good stuff there. There is also much that is troubling there, as well. I find it most troubling that her experience is being taken as reason to extend the "open communion" to more congregations. I would much rather see it as the exception that proves the rule; i.e., that baptism before receiving Holy Communion is the best way to be brought into fellowship with the body of Christ (in the total meaning of that phrase). But what else would we expect from The Lutheran?

Anonymous said...

Did you notice the trend reports for the congregation? Their average worship attendance has fallen by 28% (359 to 257) since 2000 while the area's population increased in that same period. The congregation's total income has fallen 38.9% from 2000.

I don't know what year they started the Alive! services, but attendance has fallen EVERY YEAR since 2000... so how effective has it really been as an evangelism tool?

Btw - Dr. Cheryl Peterson of Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus has an article in a recent Lutheran Forum which addresses this issue - and she falls (rightly) squarely in the font to table side of things.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I love it, you all. Blog on! This is exactly what I was hoping for, when I wrote this article. I would encourage everyone who feels strongly about this or any other issue affecting our church (yes, OUR church, uh huh, you betcha, yours and mine)to speak up - in whatever medium you choose.

In this time when we seek to be church in the world, everyone's voice is vital.

BTW, Dr. Peterson and I met at our 2008 synod assembly. We discussed her article, for which I have the highest regard. Our attitude towards each other is one of mutual respect. We are both disciples of Jesus and passionately committed to the well-being of the church for which he sacrificed his precious life.

I look forward to future lively conversations about the sacraments!

Let's Eat! said...

About the above comment, I'm sorry - I didn't mean to be anonymous. Obviously, I'm Kathy, the writer of the article which drew the ire of the good Shellfish.

Crustaceans for Christ, unite!

Seriously though, by the clock I see it is almost Christmas. I wish you all a most Merry and Blessed Christmas!

Paul Nuechterlein said...

I'm new here. It seems to be a value to discuss Scripture. Yet nothing has been said along those lines with regards to this "open communion" topic. I'd love to talk Scripture on this topic. What scripture do you see as relevant to saying that baptism must precede communion? Or that Jesus means for us to be exclusive in such matters as opposed to inclusive?

epiphany said...

I believe Ms. Schuen is on to something important and the question she raises (remember it is a question to the whole church by a lay leader, not a directive from the Presiding Bishop)is valid, particularly in an age when this church needs to re-evaluate it's concepts of evangelism. We know the tradition and the arguments against openly offering Holy Communion to the unbaptized, but the question remains. Why can't this means of grace be the means by which one encounters and, ultimately, becomes part of the community of grace?

Why are we obliged to dismiss such a notion out of hand just because it does not conform to the traditions of our church?

For what it is worth in this regard, The ELCA is on the brink of full Communion fellowship with the United Methodist Church, which does, in it's statement of policies, leave open the possibility of knowingly offering Communion to unbaptized persons.

Of course it is the Lord's Supper - a statement that begs the question of how any tradition can restrict it's table fellowship to members of that tradition only. For the ELCA, a church that stands squarely on the precedent of scripture, where does it say that this supper is reserved exclusively for the baptized?

Sarah Mile's sexuality has no bearing on this discussion, but her entry into a Christian community of faith does. I say she is emblematic of the people our church needs to reach, if we are to remain a viable voice of the Gospel in this century.

The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
Or the Shellfish blog...