Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Holiday Dilemma: Christmas at East Liberty Presbyterian Church, The Cathedral of Hope

I have a somewhat unique holiday dilemma, oh gentle readers. As a longtime supporter, volunteer, attender and advocate at my church (video clip below!)

I have long wished I could participate in communion at this place of worship where I feel so connected. However, as a non-baptised person with a faith stance that crosses many thealogical lines, I have been careful not to cross doctrinal lines at East Liberty Presby. The National Board for the Presbyterian Church USA in its polity specifically excludes non-baptised non-Christians from communion, which is what I doctrinally am by the Presbyterian Church USA's own definitions. And so when I have asked about the "open communion" at ELPC, members have told me that ELPC follows national polity. The "open communion" is open to baptised Christians only.

well. For some of my church friends this national polity is appalling. So I have good church friends who would happily give me communion, thus creating a truly open communion table - one open to all, baptism or personal faith stance notwithstanding. I have not availed myself of this offer; yes, I believe in questioning authority. Yes, I believe in re-defining religious meaning (you, oh gentle readers, may have noticed that!) And yes, I believe in transforming the established church - again, you gentle readers may have noticed that as well.

However. Polity matters. The current ELPC position is not all that revolutionary: sort've a "we'll quietly give communion to those of you who don't fit our official polity, just don't talk about it too much" kinda response. This is hardly revolutionary or transformative. Quietly slipping around rules is what we without political power have to do, and yes, that can be important. However it is still a second class communion, perhaps politically meaningful, yet hardly a challenge to church power. And I think it funny how many leftie people have said to me an inherently conservative stance: oh, polity doesn't matter. Just take communion.

(oh laws don't matter, why do gays and lesbians need marriage. oh laws don't exist; Blacks of all gender and white(ish) women have equality. oh laws don't matter, we don't need to change them. . .)

For me this issue is intensely personal. Back in divinity school, I took most of my classes at Christian seminaries. Most of my friends were devout and committed Christians. I attended countless ordinations and installations of friends. During those years I sat in pews while ALL of my friends paraded up for communion, and I, a non-baptised non-believer, sat alone, watching. It was a really weird feeling. On some occasions, rather famous ministers specifically pulled me aside before services to make sure I knew that I was not welcome to the communion table - a situation I found laughable, in an ironic way. One very famous Lutheran minister was himself installed as one of the first openly gay ministers in the Lutheran church. Yet he found it necessary to tell me that communion was not open to me on the day one of my best friends was installed as an openly lesbian deacon in his church.

And many Christian friends have explained to me over the years the necessity of communion being a religious faith stance and affirmation of a belief in Jesus' salvation. I am not in anyway questioning the deepseated need of Christian communities to self-define around sacrament and creed. After all, I truly believe in the importance of respecting faith. Many Christians don't want to share communion with me, who they would define as non-Christian.

Yet I also think my own personal faith journey has been shaped by those many, many times of sitting alone in the pew, the only person not allowed communion in a church full of friends.

Christmas Eve I will be at church with my kids, with my wonderful church friends - who themselves embrace a motley collection of beliefs. One devout church friend says she will happily give me communion. If so, that will be literally the second time in my life I have had communion with a group of religious people with whom I feel a great commitment.

Should I go?


  1. personally, I would. If I had a friend that wanted me to go and was willing to let me participate in communion, I would feel that by going I would be supporting my friend.

  2. Chadly, I am leaning that way. After all, my Christian friends at a church I call "my church" are saying, "hey, we are Christian, too, and we want to give you communion if you want it, and it's fine if other Christians disagree." I've been getting lots of wonderful letters on the topic, and plan to post more later today.