As I scrolled through Google Reader this week, a title from the ECF Vital Practices blog caught my eye: “[Not Always] Open Table.”
Those readers with an interest in Episcopal polity and politics are probably pretty up-to-date on the open table debate—I know it garnered plenty of talk at General Convention. While I’m not completely settled on any side of the question (I grew up in a church that practiced closed communion, so open communion—let alone open table/CWoB—is a significant step for me), I definitely see the questions of hospitality at stake, which is what the post at Vital Practices addresses.
Tom Brackett’s post (originally shared on Facebook—go social media!) tells of his experience visiting an Episcopal church where no one knew him. He was asked whether he was an Episcopalian in good standing, and he chose to misrepresent himself and answer “no.” The response? Tom writes, “The newly-minted priest then informed me (quite politely but firmly) that only Episcopalians are allowed to receive.”
Of course, that’s not actually true, but this slightly ill-informed priest provided Tom an interesting experience. He later writes, “Can I tell you, it feels pretty odd sitting out there in the pew while everyone else receives! Did the experience make me want to be baptized (again) so that I might receive? No.”
It’s an interesting perspective. I’ve heard it said that the desire to be baptized and receive communion might be catalyzed by better education, but presumably an Episcopal priest is, well, pretty well educated.
I clicked over to Tom’s Facebook page and read the comments (over 80 as I write this!), and found many stories similar to Tom’s, and many interesting insights. One commenter noted, “Someone might not understand what it is all about, but they sure know when they are left out.” Which is completely and utterly true, and a good reminder for all of us. This statement also, I think, broadens this conversation to include not only celebration of the Eucharist but any aspect of church life.
This is where all of us come in. Can we extend the invitation to the communion table? No. Well, maybe, with the right relationship and/or the right words—but for the sake of argument, it’s the presider who offers the invitation. Okay, but the rest of us aren’t off the hook. Receiving communion (or not) isn’t the only place to be left out. What about finding the service music—I mean, the whole S-number thing: who knew? So if you see someone down the pew from you fumbling, why not trade or share hymnals? Or the moments after the altar candles are extinguished and everyone seems to know what to do—do I listen to the voluntary, head to coffee hour, slip out quietly? Why not make a new friend to bring to coffee hour—walking into a roomful of strangers is much less intimidating with someone by your side.
The program year is picking up. Maybe you’ve noticed some new faces—I live in a college town, so this is about the time of year that new (or old) students (or faculty/staff) are church-shopping. Maybe you could make their day with a friendly smile and a, “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met. My name is ______. Do you have time to stay for a cup of coffee?” (Note: this is generally a better lead-in than, “Hi, are you new?,” especially if you’re not exactly a legacy member yourself.)
Christ gave all in his love for the whole world. God loves every single person who sets foot inside our churches. How do we enact this, embody this as the body of Christ in the world? Well…why not start with “hello”?
What are communion practices like at your church? Hospitality practices? When were you shown hospitality? When have you shown hospitality?