Monday, April 28, 2014

What Kept Me in Church Was Communion

"It wasn't preaching or programs; what kept me in Church was communion"

I am one of those Millennials who seem to be leaving the Church in droves (at least, according to everything I’ve been reading in Christian books, magazines and blogs).  

I grew up in the Church, was home-schooled and spent two years working with a Christian ministry before heading to a Christian college where I met my husband.  The perfect (American) Christian story, it seemed. 

But I am also a critic.  

When I left college, I took a long, hard look at Christianity.  I used to believe in all of it.  But I was no longer sure.  I had seen plenty of people who were Christians in the same way that other people are golfers.  It was their hobby; it was how they made friends, how they chose their reading material and it dictated where they spent their Sunday mornings.  

But I knew that if I was going to stick with this Christianity thing, it had to be something more.  Like so many of my generation, I wanted to be a Christian not because I was raised that way, but because I was convinced that I couldn’t live an honest life apart from Christ.

For a while I wasn’t sure where I would end up.  After twenty-four years of weekly sermons and four years of daily chapel services, I didn’t miss preaching.  I found community other places (in our case, with fellow military families).  I listened to beautiful music, saw beautiful art that spoke to me and propelled my soul into states of worship. To be unflatteringly frank: I didn’t miss Church.

But we kept going.  

And, like I assumed proper for a believer, I used small talk and a smile to dam up my doubts. 

Eventually, we started attending a new church.  They had good preaching and music.  The community was strong.  But what struck me was the fact that they practiced Communion every week.  I’ve attended many churches in my life, but this was the first time where Communion was an integral and expected part of each service. 

The first time I took Communion there, I was left shaken.  “Why?” I wondered.  “I’ve taken Communion so many times and never felt particularly moved.”  There were small differences, actual loaves of bread and goblets of wine, instead of stale wafers and tiny cups of grape juice.  But there was more.   

There was something in Communion that I couldn’t deny.

When my eyes locked into the lay minister’s and he said, “Christ’s Body, broken for you,” I believed him.  When I dipped that scrap of bread, humble yet holy, into the communion wine, it sent shivers down my spine.  “Christ’s blood, spilled for you.”  This was the Gospel, simple and true.

It wasn’t a fancy program or a new method to “reach my generation.” It was following the example of Christ when He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  And I did: I remembered Him.

When the cynicism of Christianity scabbed over my heart, the simplicity of the Gospel ripped it open again.  In my remembrance of Him, the offenses I held against the modern Church faded away.  

Had I seen Bible verses spewed as weapons against those we were supposed to love?  Absolutely.  But Christ’s Body was broken for me.  Was I disgusted that some Christians (including myself at times) acted like a person’s love for Jesus could be determined by their hemline or haircut?  Yes.  But Christ’s blood was poured out.  For me!

Each week it was the same.  I appreciated that our Church had good music and preaching.  And I learned and I grew from those.  But what brought me back each week was Communion.  I couldn’t wait until the end of each service to migrate from our seats to the stations at the front.  Each week I went away affected, changed.  It never got old.

Shauna Niequist writes in Bread & Wine,
 “Like every Christian, I recognize the two as food and drink, and also, at the very same time, I recognize them as something much greater – mystery and tradition and symbol.  Bread is bread, and wine is wine, but bread-and-wine is another thing entirely.  The two together are the sacred and the material at once, the heaven and earth, the divine and the daily.”

Growing up Protestant, I somehow got the impression that I shouldn’t take the Lord’s Supper too seriously.  “It’s just a sign, a symbol, after all”, said the voices in my head.  But I stopped caring about those voices.  I wasn’t sure what was going on as I partook in Communion, but I knew that it was changing me. 

In her spiritual memoir about converting to Christianity, Lauren Winner writes how, before she was even eligible to receive communion, she insisted on attending a church that practiced it each week.  “I didn’t understand what it was, exactly, or how it worked, but I knew, deeply, that the Eucharist was somehow essential, that it was the heart of what we do in those spired buildings”.  

Her words resonate with me: communion is the heart of what we do, which makes me wonder why many churches practice it so infrequently.  Why have preaching and music been elevated to a weekly status, but communion has been pushed to a monthly or even quarterly occurrence?  

It’s as if we’ve somehow decided that God can reach people with words (preaching), but He doesn’t really use actions (communion).  

But sometimes I wonder if there are others like me in the church; people who have heard enough words and really just want to see Jesus. 

And that is what I love about communion: it is so clearly about Jesus.  

In spite of my cynicism, I couldn’t deny Him when faced plainly with the truth of His sacrifice: His body, broken, His blood, spilled.  It is Christ, and him crucified (I Corinthians 2:2).  

And after seeing so many programs aimed at “reaching people”, I appreciate that communion is free of gimmicks.  It’s eating and drinking, and yet it is so much more.  Each time I partake, I remember that Jesus Himself established this act and that the church has practiced it through the ages with these same words and these same elements.  Amazing. 

Each week my soul is rattled anew as I receive Christ’s body and blood.  What that even means I’m not even sure.  But C.S. Lewis reminds me that the command, after all, was Take, eat: not Take, understand”.  

And so, I take and eat with joy.  And hope that one day, perhaps, I’ll understand.     

**another post on communion: broken and spilled.


  1. I can relate in too many ways (good and bad)! We attended a church in Denver that practiced communion weekly, my first experience like that, and it was like yours. Completely humbling and a sober way to put my perspective in check. I miss that DEARLY, it's the one thing I wish our current church did differently. Thanks for writing this piece!

  2. As always, well written, Callie! I enjoy reading your thoughts.

  3. I relate to this a lot. Communion is why I came back to church. I have been coming to the table at The Episcopal Church for a little while now, and I still can't get eat the bread and drink the wine without crying.

  4. Callie, I found this post from Elizabeth Esther's Saturday evening blog post. Great article and I chuckled as I wrote about similar things last month. Easter must have had us pondering the sacred. I referenced Lauren Winner too. Thanks for sharing! Communion is beautiful.

  5. Pamela Kerner ParsonsMay 4, 2014 at 1:06 PM

    The best book I have read on communion and the sacramental life is "For the LIfe of the World" by Fr. Alexander Schmemann.

  6. I *really* hope that the next time we PCS (move) we will find a church that fits us well and continues this practice. I would hate to give it up now that it has become an integral part of church to us.

  7. I, too, have cried while taking communion. It is powerful. A couple weeks ago our pastor said that communion was "a sermon for our eyes and our tastebuds" - I loved that. p.s. I'm so glad we've connected through blogging! I have loved reading your posts the last couple of weeks! I need to do better about commenting though!

  8. Traci, thanks for coming and commenting! I am off to explore your blog and find your post on communion!

  9. Oh, I am so glad you shared this! I haven't heard of it before, but I'm adding it to my "want to read' list right now! Also, I've been looking for more books from an Orthodox perspective, so if you have any favorites, I'd love to hear recommendations!

  10. Pamela Kerner ParsonsMay 6, 2014 at 9:12 PM

    I just finished Frederica Mathewes Greene's "At the Corner of East and Now".I think you would enjoy it. On my list to read next is "Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy" by Fr. ANDREW Stephen Damick. You might also be interested in ancient There are several wonderful podcasts.

  11. one of the reasons why i love anglican tradition is because of the eucharist being celebrated every week, and one half of the service being solely focused on it. sometimes i go to church only for the bread and the wine, as it were. thanks sharing; i found you through EE's treasury of small blogs!

  12. I've been to several anglican services as two of my sisters are episcopal, and I agree, they have a lovely way of centering the service on the eucharist. So glad you found my blog through EE!


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