A number of years ago, I went with my Mother and Sister to St Stephen's, Willoughby for Christmas service. We did not go to the first service of the morning as it was difficult to get my mother anywhere early. I was surprised when the priest entered in suit and tie and discovered it was not to be a communion service. As the service continued, I became more and more annoyed and finally left when we were asked to raise our hands if we were saved. My mother and sister soon followed. My mother was upset as she had never missed communion on Christmas day before but they also were bewildered by the service. It was not Anglican in any shape or form and parts were, to put it bluntly, obnoxious.
I wrote to the priest and one of his replies was to the effect that he did not believe communion should be offered to those many who only attend at Christmas and might take it unworthily. I was gobsmacked. I have just read a comment on Father Jake's site describing a funeral service for a young man after a car accident. Part of this comment follows (my bold).
When it was time for communion, the family came up first. As is often the case, we wondered if anyone else would come to the rail for communion. Then they began to approach us. Out of over 350 people in that service about 280 of them took communion. We didn't ask who was baptized and who was not. We didn't do any litmus test of their beliefs. We simply ministered to those in need. We gave them Christ's body and His blood.
As I repeated the words "the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation" over and over, I began to notice how remarkable an event I was privileged to be witnessing. We were making a difference. We were providing what these young people needed. It may not have made complete sense to them or to us, but it was what they needed. They heard the same comfort in those words that I had heard thousands of times over the years. And I recalled my own mother's funeral this past August when I heard those same words then and knew that all would be well, that all would be well, that everything would be well.
We were able to reach out to this group of distraught young people today..not by judgment, not by requiring confirmation of any creed but the Apostle's, not by hitting them over the head with words that would drive them away again. We simply provided the words of comfort and the sacrament of comfort that the church has provided for hundreds of years.
This was a group of people who we don't see in church very much. The Barna Report tells us why. They see us as being hypocritical. We don't practice the love and compassion we preach. They find us particularly hypocritical about issues related to human sexuality. Sexual orientation is not an issue for them. They just don't care about that aspect of another person's life.
We look pretty silly to them with our obsession over it all.
I'm sure some will immediately provide criticism for us having announced that God's table was open to all. Others will wring their hands and gnash their teeth over the possibility of some received the sacrament without proper credentials. To be honest, I don't really care what anyone has to say about what we did. It's far more important to me and I firmly believe it's more in accord with the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we did what we did.
We brought some folks to church today. I suspect we brought some back to church. For perhaps a fleeting moment, we touched some hearts and ministered to some critical needs.
It was a remarkable service and I was blessed to be a part of it.
I now have some friends, 2 sisters, who live in the Willoughby parish but worship at St James. They told me that they could not continue attending St Stephen's and for 6 months stopped worshipping at all until they decided to visit St James, where they can now be seen every Sunday and are involved in other parish activities. Praise God for St James, King Street where most services include the Eucharist and all are welcome.
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