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?



Blogger Paul said...

Sorry for the icky experience you had. It seems particularly rude to exclude guest musician who are contributing to their worship experience. What a bunch of cads.

About 20 years ago when our firstborn was a toddler, Ann and I visited my brother's LCMS church in Seattle. I think my entire family was in attendance for whatever reason. (I had been raised in the "Misery" synod but fairly quickly drifted from it after moving to college.)

Early into the service Ann, who was raised Catholic, showed me the card found in the hymnal rack explaining the fact that if you were not schooled in the Misery teachings you could not possibly be worthy of their communion. Ick.

We went into the narthex for the rest of the service, politely using Madeline's "fussiness" as an excuse for why we were not sitting in the pews.

Contrast that with the awesome UCC minister in tiny Zumbrota where Ann grew up. She would literally invite "everyone" to participate in communion, just as Jesus would have. She could almost make me want to be Christian again.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Suna said...

It's odd, but there are parallels in the secular world. For example, I am a contractor at work. Been there longer than some employees but they "can't justify a technical writer on staff." For the longest time it meant, "You are welcome to work here, create important things for our clients, and such, but you are not welcome to unlock the door." And, "We are all going to dinner with the boss, but you can't come." Those are the little things that hurt when they come up. The big things--no insurance and having to pay self employment tax, I guess those are what really matter, or course--it would be like how that church would treat me, an agnostic, in their midst.

Glad I have a spiritual home where all are welcome. I hope someday to find a "real" job!

6:10 PM  
Blogger Liz T-G said...

Paul, I should clarify that no one actually refused me communion this morning. Knowing the church was LCMS, we chose not to even try to take communion thinking that would be more comfortable for all concerned, particularly with kids involved.

6:49 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

In Minneapolis last Sunday, Catholics at the Cathedral were denied communion for simply wearing a rainbow colored ribbon. So many people to exclude from God's love, so little time...

8:40 PM  
Blogger Violet Baily said...

Oh Liz, I have felt this and "ick in opposite" when I attended a church where I was "invited" at communion time to participate in communion by an usher sort who made a point of saying that at this particular anonymous church, did not exclude those of other backgrounds or histories from communing. When will people find we are all from the same human race and be at peace with the idea that there are (in my humble opinion and a certain Jewish rabbi that is on NPR now and again) many paths, one God and let people find God the way that speaks to them instead of using religion as just another way to exclude or make themselves feel superior to another? I am so sorry to hear this happened, especially if Bach was involved because I always think of him as one of the happier church musicians who also happened to be Lutheran. I am sure that this is not what God would have wanted. Now go and do some yoga and feel better!

9:17 PM  
Blogger Ann Allen - Flying Woman Designs. said...

I was just thinking of the same incident that Paul cited. But the really funny thing is that most of his family eventually ended up in the narthex with us...I guess we are just that fun. : )

1:59 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

It is a bitter irony in Christendom that:
- The ritual of communion is based on the practice of Jesus of Nazareth daring to eat at table with ANYONE and EVERYONE--those considered unclean, those considered to be sinners, those considered to be outcasts; and
- This practice morphed into a ritual that is hollow and selfish in comparison, "celebrated" often with sterile wafers in a way which is not so much "communal" as "serially experienced," in a line, staring, at best, into the eyes of a single minister; and
- Those who claim to follow Jesus as Master profane His practice of an open table by restricting access to that table, even to some who claim to be his Disciples.

cf. Dostoevsky's "The Grand Inquisitor": If Jesus actually returned today, the Church would have to kill Him. Again.

4:10 PM  

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