Welcome to 2017! I love a prayer that I have heard a number of times from another church leader at the start of a new day. He will regularly pray “Thank you God for the gift of this new day, fresh off the shelf of heaven. A new day that has never existed before and we will live with you only once. Thank you for this amazing gift!” We could pray just such a prayer at the start of this new year.
As Christians we seek to live each day, and each year, following the teaching, guidelines and instructions that God has given us in the Bible. Recently I’ve been asking whether there are any Biblical principles that apply to a decision we have to make as a church community.
You may recall that a number of months ago we changed they way that the bread and wine are distributed at communion services. This was prompted by safety concerns for some who find the two steps on the semi-circular dais difficult and the last thing we would want as a church is for someone to fall and hurt themselves. We therefore moved to serving communion at the semi-circular dais rather than at the sanctuary steps. Initially we tried serving communion from one spot, however this didn’t allow people the time to properly engage with receiving the bread and wine. We more recently changed to serving communion around the dais which has allowed at least as much time for each person as when we previously served communion at the sanctuary steps. The intention however was to move back to the original location after we have installed handrails on the dais.
Something significant has recently happened that has meant the PCC are again considering where we should serve communion in the longer term. Towards the end of September, for the very first time, one of the members of our church community in a wheelchair was wheeled forward to receive communion at the steps to the dais along with everyone else. Subsequently all our friends from Coldeast have come forward in their wheelchairs to the dais, either to receive communion or a prayer of blessing.
On a personal basis I had no preference for where we serve communion and would be content for it to continue at the dais, or to return to the sanctuary steps. However I believe that something significant happened in that moment when one of our wheelchair users received communion for the first time alongside everyone else. Here is where I start asking myself if there are Biblical principles to inform the decision we have to make and I believe there are.
We are encouraged and instructed to think first about others before ourselves. “Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3 and “Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.” Luke 6:31 If we are honest this is a difficult principle, putting others first doesn’t always come easy. I am aware that there are some who through the practice of many years have grown used to receiving communion is a particular place, and greatly value the moment at the communion rail. I wonder if this Biblical principle may speak to us?
The next Biblical principle that I think helps us is that we are all equal before God. “There is no Jew or Gentile. There is no slave or free person. There is no male or female. That’s because you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28. We are all equal and we are all one, and communion is a meal that unites us together in our faith and worship. In the original context communion was part of a meal with an extended family. All would receive equally and there would never be a thought about some some having communion in one place and others somewhere different.
The third Biblical principle I’ve found is in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. The church in Corinth had a number of divisions and these showed in their worship. Paul’s clear encouragement to them is that when they meet together for communion they do so as a united, equal community. One family wasn’t to eat their communion meal without the others and the rich were to share equally with the poor. All were to eat equally and none were to be treated differently because of their circumstances.
We all need to consider how these, and maybe other, Biblical principles relate to the decision we need to make as a church community. In January we will be asking as many people as possible to indicate the location where they feel we should serve communion within our main morning services. I will be addressing this question in my sermon on Sunday the 16th of January and we will then make a response form available for you to return by the end of January. The PCC will consider the responses at our February meeting.
Please consider your response carefully, and prayerfully, asking God for guidance from His Word.