Sunday, October 10, 2010

You are not welcome here

I hung out with a bunch of teenage boys this morning. No, I'm not aspiring to cougar status, nor have I returned to the Sunday School classroom. I was a ringer ringer (tee-hee) in our currently all-male youth bell choir.

Much fun was had, as the music was hard and the young men amusing. (Don't even think about it. Just keep reading.) It's a touch embarrassing for a 48 yr old bossy mom with a music degree to need a 15 yr old to count for her. But the guys were kind. At least to the moms. :-)

If the only challenging event of the morning had been the ringing, I'd have left a happy camper and gone off to my usual Sunday afternoon ritual of lunch, newspapers, and nap. Instead, I have 6 tabs up on the computer screen full of denominational venom, pain 40 to 50 years in the making.

We didn't ring at "home" today. We rang at a different church, one that by denomination has a "close communion" aka all are NOT welcomed at the communion table.

Google tells me many things about this practice in the Missouri Synod Lutheran flavor (LCMS) as well as in other denominations. The official LCMS stance is that they DON'T close their communion table to all those who are not LCMS. Rather, they say that "not only are members of other Lutheran churches with whom we are in altar and pulpit fellowship invited to commune with us, but also that in certain extraordinary cases of pastoral care and in emergencies members of churches not in fellowship with us may be given Communion."

You knew there was a "but", didn't you? LCMS is not in "altar and pulpit fellowship" with the ELCA (the other major Lutheran denomination.) For all practical purposes, you can't take communion at a LCMS church unless you are LCMS or the pastor assesses you as worthy.

If you long to read 64 pages of explanations and justifications as to how that works and why that's not offensive to God, please do so. Despite (or maybe because of) those 64 pages, closed communion is very offensive to me.

By the way, the whole "close" versus "closed" thing? That's not a typo. Apparently those who close their communion tables prefer to call it a "close" table, as in it being a near or intimate for them, rather than "closed" table, as in we don't want you to be intimate with us.

Sorry, folks. Taking away the "d" may make you feel better and sound inclusive, but it's weak window dressing when you're on the outside looking in. And apparently I am the last Lutheran on earth to actually experience this divide, to worship at a service where I was not welcomed with literal open arms to the communion table.

I've always thought closed communion was an icky practice, but the ick factor was academic. No longer. Sitting through a closed communion was a slow, sharp, repeating kick in the gut. Sitting there, watching everyone else file up and be welcomed, knowing that I would not receive that welcome?

I couldn't blink the tears away, couldn't sing them away, couldn't sing at all, for a while. Knowing that I was not welcome, knowing that these people, this church as part of a denominational body professes that they have the obligation to refuse to serve me was profoundly alienating.

Yes, I know. Welcome to the real world, Lizabeth, the world where differences are so focused upon that they obliterate all we have in common. A place where differences in race or color or sexual attraction or theology closes our hearts exactly when and where we most need them opened.

And, somehow, I think the academic arguments about theology are perhaps the most pernicious, the most unfaithful acts of all. Over and over and over, we use words and beliefs to cut ourselves off from one another. Is that really the only available path faith can lead us down? Can't we do better than this?