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“Too many choices!” I commented as I tried to pick from the array of bread, bagels, and baked goods displayed in the breakfast buffet. “Yes, that is usually the problem in America!” said a voice behind me, belonging to a Nigerian pastor. Along with about 50 other representatives from Reformed denominations across the globe, we were entering into a few days of reflection on the meaning of communion, hosted by the World Communion of Reformed Churches. In worship, in small groups, in discussions and Bible study, we sought a better understanding of what it means to be in this ecumenical communion with one another.
Here we are:
We left with the same differences that we came with. We come from churches that vary widely in positions and practices, especially around issues of gender and sexuality, race, power, cultural norms, patterns of structure and authority. We come from denominations that want to be in ecumenical communion with other Reformed churches, even though communion can be difficult to maintain even within denominations. Throughout history, and up to the present, divisions persist.
Although we spent a good deal of time focusing on the challenges facing the Communion at the global and local level, we also imagined anew what communion at its best can feel like. I think I did, at least. It came over me when we prayed the Lord’s Prayer in our mother tongues, and the room filled with the languages coming from the mouths of my brothers and sisters from South Africa, Indonesia, Japan, Honduras, Mexico, Germany, Hungary, Ghana, Nigeria, the Netherlands, and with English spoken with American, Canadian, Scottish, Irish, Caribbean, and Australian accents. We said the same words with different words, and we knew what our neighbors were saying. So simple, yet so rich. I felt communion when we sat down at meals together, sharing snippets of our own experiences and cultures. (How does the church tax work in Germany? Why do Americans put so much ice in their water even when it’s ten degrees outside? How are post-apartheid churches faring in South Africa?) We can’t intellectualize a perfect theological solution to our hopes for communion, but we, like people of faith everywhere, can try to live it out in the midst of wherever our daily lives take us.
We wrote a report together, as is usually the case in meetings like this, but the main thing I care to report is that I tasted communion, and I think others did too. It culminated in our closing worship, where we celebrated the Lord’s Supper together. We enacted the truth that communion is not earned or achieved but received. We brought our feeble attempts at unity to the table where Christ hosts us and re-calls us to unity in him. We are all fed by a broken body.