World Communion

by Nathan Proctor

I think about worship a lot. Like, a lot. In my current church, I plan and lead music in an average of two hundred worship services a year. As I look back on the hours of planning and rehearsing to prepare for worship, every year I get caught off guard by October. The two church celebrations that frame the month, World Communion and Reformation, throw me into a mind-spin. Having just gone through the month, I cautiously look back and wonder about next year. I wonder if as a congregation we remembered and celebrated these occasions faithfully and lovingly. I wonder if we found the right balance between remembering our history and dreaming about the future.

As the church changes and we witness to the church that is becoming, the big question that weighs on my mind is this: Will we reach a time when we can no longer answer why we do this? Will we discover a time when we need to outgrow these occasions? As compared to celebrations and feast days where the church year marks the life of Jesus Christ, how can these ecclesiastical occasions, to honor the church itself, grow and change with us as a reforming church?

World Communion

I grew up Lutheran, so it wasn’t until my first Presbyterian church job that I experienced a tried and true World Communion Sunday in October. I quickly learned that this day was a special part of the Presbyterian heritage. At its very core, celebrating communion with the entire world is a beautiful and holy thing to do. However, over the years I have seen lots of “interesting” ideas: wearing traditional costumes, speaking in different languages, sharing global music, and even using “global” bread during communion. I worry that these ideas can cheapen our grand vision for the day, and we end up at some sort of costume party eating pita bread together. While I am grateful for people who share ideas and for the hours it takes to bring them to fruition, I also wonder how we can expand our visions and search for ways to celebrate that have less to do with our own perceptions of the world and more about what God’s view of the world might be.

First, I think God calls us to see the concept of world as “welcome,” not geography. Our current technology allows us to connect with people living afar so quickly and effortlessly compared to the first time we celebrated it in 1936, so the notion of World Communion takes on (or should take on) a different meaning. Instead of exotic geography, perhaps we should focus on radical invitations to the table. Maybe the church that we are slowly becoming is one that thinks less about how our own church specifically does communion and instead looks outward to how everyone could feel welcome to share in the feast. Do we dare to suggest a new idea in that the world celebrates communion with us EVERY single time we partake in the sacred meal? What if the real gift of World Communion and its history and tradition is that it brought about an openness — a step outside of ourselves — within our practice of communion?

Second, I think God hopes we are open to new ideas every time we gather to worship. World Communion has given us permission to experiment, to be playful, to try on something that might not feel like our own tradition for one Sunday out of the year. Why not allow that to happen other Sundays (if not every week)? Local tradition is important because it gives us continuity, history, a sense of belonging, but let’s build and honor local tradition out of “music,” not subsets of “our music” and “global music.” Let’s allow all language, fabric, movement, color, faces, tastes and smells from God’s creation to inform and inspire our weekly worship, not just those that have always been in our church closet.

Costume parties are fun because you can try out a different character while knowing you will change back to the old you in the morning. Shouldn’t we expect more from World Communion? Shouldn’t encountering the world transform us? Shouldn’t seeing the face of God in different forms and hearing the stories in different tongues alter our relationship to our brothers and sisters? Maybe the measure of success for World Communion Sunday is when we no longer need one token day of remembering, and instead invite the whole world to supper each time we gather together.

{This post is part one of a two-part series; come back later this week to continue exploring how we worship — on Reformation Sunday.}

Nathan 2Nathan Proctor serves as Associate Director of Music and White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh NC, where he helps plan and lead three worship services each Sunday at the organ, and directs choirs of children, youth, and adults. He considers himself lucky: he grew up in Iowa but now lives in North Carolina, so he can handle everything from ten-foot snow drifts to cheese grits. He travels for mission work, for fun, and for coffee, and is guilty of ordering one too many churchy books online.