So this summer has been cruising along at a hellish blast out here in philly at BSM. I have found myself quite comfortable in this funky church. The people who work here all care deeply about what it means to live and be a church in Philly, and it definitely shows–in the friendliness of those who come here, in the posture of openness of not only the staff but also many who come here for meals and worship and fellowship. And it has been quite a bit of work as well, but I have liked it.
One thing that has also been nice about BSM has been that worship is in the evenings, which means that I have had the opportunity to both work at a church and explore other church communities in the area. So far I have attended 4 other Presbyterian Churches in the area, and while I haven’t felt quite at home at any of them, my experiences at each have left me mulling over some interesting questions about what it means to steward a church and to be a church in a city like this.
One that has come up most sharply relates to an experience that I had at a church this past week. The church was a sort of wacky mix of traditional and contemporary, with a praise band and an organ, and a whole lot of “Lord Father God” language. Their pastor, a supply pastor, was extremely exuberant and unabashedly Reformed, which meant there was a whole lot of things like “we come here not to receive, but to give gratitude and worship god” being said, and a whole lot about depravity and sinfulness as related to our inability to see and worship God being implied.
I didn’t mind all that so much. In fact, I was sort of interested in the church because other than BSM they are the only PCUSA-ish church I know of that has communion every week. I happen to think frequent communion is a beautiful thing, so I was excited. So we get to communion, and the pastor gets up and does the invitation, which goes something like this: “we welcom to the table all those gathered here among us today who have been baptized into the faith. If you have been baptized, please come forward now to receive communion.”
Did I hear that right? Did he just say that communion is only for you if you have had water sprinkled on you by a minister? Did he MEAN it? They aren’t going to police that, are they? I was caught between surprise and anger by what I had heard. I mean, what is communion for? Everything this church said indicated it believed that communion was a feast for believers to pat themselves on the back and celebrate their gratitude to God… but what about everyone else? Jesus’ memorable meal was one shared with the “everyone else,” the prideful, broken, sinful, young, unprepared clan of young men and probably some women who had been rejected by everyone but Christ, who unlike anyone else gathered them in and welcomed them to a table where they were filled and provided for. It was radically inclusive, as I read it, nothing like the closed table of this church. In contrast to Jesus’ meal, this church seemed guaranteed to leave anyone who took communion illicitly feeling deceitful and probably guilty for nothing more than seeking to be fed by Christ.
So those are my thoughts, but seriously, what is communion for? Is it right to close a table? What does it mean for a community to choose to close a table to outsiders? Is it necessary that it always be open? I imagine anyone reading this knows my thoughts, but I wonder what others might think? What would it mean to offer communion to anyone who comes to the table? What is at stake? What is the risk? What might be gained from a completely open table?