Summary: There can be debates an disagreements over who should or shouldn't be permitted to receive communion, but let's go back to the Last Supper to see who took part.
Grace at the Table
It was the summer of 1980. I had just completed my first year of university and for the summer I volunteered with an organization called the Shantymen Christian Association, now referred to simply as SCA. In an article written for the Toronto Star in the 1970s the author wrote: “If you have the zeal of a Billy Graham, the toughness of a Green Beret, the desire to lead an outdoor life in some of the most rugged terrain in Canada and, in the time of inflation, can live on about $35. a week and expenses, then consider joining the Shantymen.”
Across Canada these men ministered in lumber camps, mines and on wharves. But in the summer time in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia the Shantymen ministered on fairgrounds. And that was what I spent my summer doing. We had a mobile chapel in each province and would travel with the Bill Lynch show and the like, set up on the fairgrounds and show gospel films and hand out gospel literature to strangers, the second part was way outside of my comfort zone. And we spent most of our off hours with the carnies. You know the folks you warn your kids about when the carnivals and fairs come to town. And under the gruff exterior most of them were really nice people.
And I spent most of that summer wearing blue jeans, a US a;rmy jacket and a cowboy hat. Life was good. Our crew was made up of me, Joe Hooper who was another student and the Shantyman in charge. There were three of them who rotated in and out but mostly it was Bruce Lumsten who was a Baptist minister.
On many weekends Bruce would find a local Christian campground where they were having meetings and that’s where we’d go to church.
And so one weekend we showed up at a particular camp, and to be truthful I was looking a little worse for wear, my hair was long and shaggy, but I had my best jeans and cowboy hat on for Sunday.
Part of the service was to be communion, and I was looking forward to receiving communion that day.
Well, when they got to the three of us they stepped out around us, served people on either side of us and didn’t even slow down for us. I was a little offended. Actually a lot offended. Bruce explained later that that particular denomination practices “closed communion” it was only for members of their church and that I shouldn’t take my exclusion personally, but I did.
On a side note, the bright shining point of that summer was the week we spent in Musquodoboit Harbour and Joe and I went to Hillside Wesleyan Church on Sunday and that’s where I met Angela for the first time.
The next year one of my classes was called Pastoral Ministries and we were taught the practical stuff of ministry, as one of my peers later called it, hatching, matching and dispatching. How to do everything from baby dedications to weddings to funerals. And in the class on communion my Professor, Bill Burbury told about an experience he had when he was a young pastor.
He was serving at a small rural church on that day as he served communion there was a stranger in their midst. This was back in the day when our denomination was much more conservative in an era that was much more conservative.
And Bill said that this lady was wearing more makeup and jewellery than was fashionable in the church at that time, and so when he got to her he opted not to serve her, saving her from being put in an awkward position of not taking communion.
But as he stepped around her she tugged on his jacket looking to be served. Dr. Burbury said that from that point on he never made the assumption about who should or shouldn’t receive communion.
At Cornerstone we are much more open to who can receive communion than some churches. Through the years I’ve been asked questions, have received nasty letters and have had people tell me they can’t or won’t attend our church because of how I approach communion. Because I don’t tell people they can’t receive communion, either because they have not yet stepped over the line of faith or they aren’t where they should be in their spiritual walk.
And maybe you are in that group, or maybe you never really thought of it.
And the reason that some folks feel that way is in how they read 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. Which is the scripture that we read here at Cornerstone almost every time we celebrate communion.