Monday, October 5, 2009

Communion Confusion

Youth Ministry is often about being bold and taking chances, and certainly over the years I did my share of both. One of the boldest things I ever did took place at New Garden Friends Meeting on a Youth Sunday in 1983, and I want to tell you the story. But first, a history lesson!

The Society of Friends (Quakers) began in Great Britain in the 1650's as a movement away from the Church of England. George Fox (often called the founder of Quakerism- truth is, he had no intention of founding anything! He, like John Wesley and others, just wanted the Anglican Church to get off its collective butt!) had an astounding revelation one day- that he didn't need all the pomp and traditions of the church to connect to Jesus. He could go straight to the source. His defining statement said that he realized that "there is One- even Christ Jesus- who can speak to my condition." As he began to "walk cheerfully about the world, answering to that of God in everyone" people began to follow him, and eventually the Society of Friends was born. In response to the lifelessness they saw in the established church, they went in a radical new direction. All people were to be ministers, because everyone has access to Jesus, which also means that all people are equal. They eschewed many of the traditions of the church, including the sacraments, because in their eyes they had become meaningless rituals. They came to believe that Christianity is a life you live, not a creed you profess. So to bring you up to speed quickly, they were arrested in large numbers, brought before judges, trembled in the presence of God and got nicknamed Quakers (as an insult at first) because of that, escaped to the new world for religious freedom, were hung in Boston Commons for practicing religious freedom, founded Pennsylvania, made some oatmeal and are still around today, though not in very large numbers (As an aside, Marilyn recently joined a group on Facebook called I Bet I Can Find 1,000,000 Quakers on Facebook. Take that bet! There are not a million Quakers in the world, much less on Facebook. But I digress...). Whew!

Quakers did not just randomly do away with baptism and communion. Today many longtime Friends will tell you that "Quakers don't believe in those things." That would be wrong. The belief is that when Jesus broke the bread and passed the cup in the Upper Room and said "every time you do this, think of Me" the intent was not to establish a ritual, but rather for us to think of Him every time we gather, every time we eat. We should be constantly in communion with Christ. It's called Communion after the manner of Friends, and it is often a period of quiet meditation and prayer. With baptism, John the Baptizer said "I baptize with water, but One comes who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Again, the idea is that the water is an outward symbol of an inward act. It's not about being sprinkled or dunked; it's all about Jesus! This is not to say Quakers have it right. I just wanted you to understand so my story can be more dramatic!

So it's a Youth Sunday in 1983, and I decide to do something outlandish. It seemed to me at the time (and still today, I might add) that NOT having communion like most of the Christian world had become our new ritual. Most could not explain why we didn't have it. Most thought the idea of passing the bread and the cup was somehow in violation of the law of George Fox- and there is no law of George Fox, a fact that has always caused considerable trouble among Friends. But with the support of our pastoral minister David Bills (an Influences post about David is coming later this week) the youth decided to serve communion at New Garden, the last place you would expect it to happen. We explained why we were doing it. We were honoring our Quaker heritage. We were breaking out of a ritual. We were...well it just didn't matter, because many people were not happy about it. I caught lots of flack and even a bit of abuse. But it was sooooo worth it, because it opened a great discussion in the Meeting. And it helped establish one of my primary philosophies of student ministry- that the youth of the church are not just cute teenagers. We shouldn't just be happy that they show up, or that they will stand in front of the church and sing. Youth have something to say, and the church had better listen. I believed it then, and I believe it even more today. And every church I have served since has gotten that lecture...

The next time you are taking communion, remember what it means. Remember why you do it. And the next time you aren't "taking" communion in a Friends Meeting, remember why not. Remember that in both cases, it's all about what Jesus has done for us. In my humble opinion, if we do that, we can't be wrong. Even if you serve it to a Quaker youth group at Myrtle Beach and use OJ and Krispy Kreme doughnuts...but that is a story for another day!

Because of Jesus,

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