For two evenings in March, Sarah Kathleen Johnson led an Anabaptist Learning Workshop focused on the ritual of communion, at Rockway Mennonite Church in Kitchener. Johnson, who is the worship resources editor for Voices Together, the Mennonite worship and song collection currently being developed, led participants from several churches in exploring communion from a variety of perspectives.
On the first evening, she led the group in reflecting on personal experiences of communion, as well as meals in the Bible. She also took the group on a journey through the history of communion since the second century, and explored five theological layers of meaning expressed in communion.
On the second evening, she had participants test out the material on communion that is being considered for the worship resources section of the new worship and song collection. In small groups, participants explored several different models of communion services, such as global celebration or solemn memorial. Each group was asked to apply the same three questions that the Voices Together committee asks of every song or resource under consideration:
- What are the merits?
- What are the drawbacks?
- What possible changes would you recommend?
There was also time in the workshop to explore some of the urgent questions around communion theology and practice, such as how it relates to baptism, how children are included, how often it occurs, and how inclusive it is across Christian traditions. The workshop participants represented churches with a diversity of experiences, perspectives and practices. Some practise an open table; some offer an alternative for children, such as grapes or pretzels; and some continue to invite baptized members to the table while offering a blessing to children and unbaptized youth and adults.
The participants reflected on other tensions that arise around communion. If reconciliation with each other is important for a community, should it occur before coming to the communion table or does participation in communion move people toward reconciliation? Considering the experiences of believing, behaving and belonging, in what order should they occur, and which ones are necessary before baptism or communion?
Johnson encouraged churches to provide clear communication whenever communion is offered, and to discern a “consistent local practice,” allowing people to live into and become formed by the practice. While that doesn’t mean doing it the same way every time, she cautioned that if a church experiments with too many different forms, the “logistics can get in the way of meaning.”
To conclude the workshop, Johnson facilitated communion using an informal structure that invited reflections and sharing from the participants. It was an opportunity to experience how the resources under consideration for Voices Together can live and take shape.
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