I’m the seminary chapel coordinator this year. That may sound like a big deal, but it’s not, really. The majority of my role is simply to lead chapels, make sure that there is music and someone to read scripture. Speaker scheduling is done by someone else. My biggest responsibility, however, is planning day of prayer (which is technically 3 hours of prayer, but never mind).
Day of prayer is finished now. It was a good day. A really good day.
But what a lot of preparatory work! I’ve been able to focus on little else since the school year started. I’m a little behind in reading and I have some assignments due on Friday.
The lesson learned (or re-learned) in all this is that I can’t please everyone. This is a lesson that needs to be hammered home to me, because I want to make everyone happy. That wasn’t what the day was about, of course, but in preparation I wanted to be sensitive to the variety of people we have in our school.
Let me get specific. The day was structured around the Lord’s Prayer and for the portion related to “Forgive us our sins…”, I thought communion would be appropriate. I asked a professor here who was recently ordained to the Anglican priesthood to preside over the service. I didn’t know at the time that his vows gave him liturgical boundaries, which meant that he would have to use the Anglican eucharistic liturgy. This was actually quite fitting–I was already borrowing material from the Book of Alternative Services before I asked him, and the day included a variety of responsive prayers and scripture readings.
But here was the issue: the priest preferred to serve wine in a common cup. We are an interdenominational school and so there are a variety of approaches to and opinions about communion. It may just be the vestiges of my upbringing in a conservative community of (theoretically) teetotalers, but I was sensitive to the possibility of some people attending the day of prayer might be offended by the use of wine.
So I spent much mental energy coming up with an approach that could include both wine and juice as an alternative, without creating an ideological divide at the ceremony (and undoing one of the central elements of the Eucharist). After further discussion with the priest, he reminded me that to be truly interdenominational (which our seminary is) is not to pretend that all the church traditions are the same and therefore make up a sort of hybrid communion service that covers all the denominational bases (e.g. wine and juice); neither is it to resort to the lowest common denominator and just go with the least potential to offend (e.g. juice only). Instead, to be truly interdenominational means to respect recognize each tradition for what it is and what it offers.
There is no position here which does not have the potential to offend. As my brother noted, to some traditions a communion service that serves juice isn’t much of a communion service at all. (And, quite frankly, there is nothing about the Eucharist that says that cannot or should not offend. The very nature of the Eucharist and its liturgy is offensive in some sense–sin, the need for forgiveness, etc.)
So we went with the full-on Anglican Eucharist–common cup, wine and all. We are an interdenominational school, I said today, and we have a growing number of faculty and students who are Anglican, so today we will have an Anglican communion service.
There are a number of other ways to look at the situation. For instance, one could say that we are an interdenominational school and this day of prayer is not an Anglican day of prayer and so we should have a communion service in which everyone can partake of the elements in good conscience. This a valid approach, but no more valid that the “truly interdenominational” approach that we went with.
Others might say that we should go with the juice for the sake of the “weaker brother or sister” of which the Apostle Paul writes. But this is not, in my estimation, a “weaker brother” situation.
So we had an Anglican communion service as a part of our day of prayer, and it was very good. I don’t think we had anyone not participate in some way–apparently one person abstained from taking the elements, but came up for a blessing.
In the end, I think this was more an issue with me than anyone else. I am not a teetotaler, but I had to wrestle with the notion of how to approach this potentially sensitive issue as well as with my own concerns about “what people might think.”
Next semester I will be planning another day of prayer, and we will likely do something different again.
It was a very good day.
And now I can start thinking about assignments again. And hope and pray that I don’t crash and get really sick.