The Rules of Hospitality

Thursday, 25th March 2010 at 9:00 UTC 4 comments

The whole debate about the threshold for receiving communion is something that I’ve struggled with over time. Two stories recently caught my eye, one concerning gays being denied communion, another concerning Muslims. On the one hand, I get that some bible passages say Christians should exclude people from communion, but it doesn’t sit very well with the idea of an inclusive, open and empowering church.

Whilst both of the stories I’m referring to took place in Catholic churches, one in the Netherlands and the other in Malaysia, its actually not terribly relevant to the points I want to make. It could happen in just about any church, and involve one of any number of reasons. It could be something where the person giving out communion knew what was going on, or one where it came to light after the service.

Its a relevant question to myself because I’m occasionally asked to help distribute communion. Do I have to make a judgement on each of the people approaching me to receive communion? Its bad enough trying to coordinate a plate, loose wafers, make sure you don’t run out (but don’t split so many in half you have a load left), remember to say the right words (the number of times people get wine or wafer from me whilst I saw the words for the other is embarrassing), especially when its flu season and you can’t contaminate your hands or you’ll have to re-gell, and someone asks you for a blessing and thus you need to come out with something eloquent in the middle of an otherwise unbroken rhythm, and now you have to make a judgement on everyone’s likelihood to be an ok person to give communion to.

Its not made any easier by people who decide they can’t have communion because God couldn’t possibly like them (wait a second, you believe in God) or believe they should be able to take it despite something you know someone else might see as a just impediment to their communicating. And then there’s the desire to be hospitable, to be inclusive of outsiders in your church, and to recognise people’s willingness to dip their toes, as it were. It doesn’t sit well to have to make such a decision, such a judgement, especially not ‘on the fly’.

And besides, if I decide there is a reason someone can’t receive communion, what if someone else then decides there’s a reason I can’t receive communion, or that a whole swathe of regular church-goers can’t receive. What if we all decided to be the judge of everyone else’s faith? What if we all decided to pick up stones to throw at each other?


Entry filed under: Church, Faith, Gay Rights, Islam, Religion, Theology.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lois  |  Thursday, 25th March 2010 at 10:29 UTC

    It’s not the easiest of issues. My inclination would be to err on the side of generosity- God knows what is in everyone’s hearts, we’re not called to know that but to judge as best we can. If someone feels a desire to take communion, perhaps it isn’t ‘right’ as we would consider it but perhaps for them it’s a first step.

  • 2. brainduck  |  Thursday, 25th March 2010 at 22:10 UTC

    AFAIC, if you want to ban me from communion (whether on the grounds of disreputable Quaker-ness or otherwise) you have to ban me from the tea and biscuits afterwards too.
    It’s not that Quakers don’t do communion, it’s that we can’t ever *not* do it…

  • 3. unnamus  |  Monday, 5th April 2010 at 22:52 UTC

    How about pulling Matt. 7:1-5 on those who ask you to pass judgement? Possibly followed by Jer. 29:11, Isa. 55:8-9, and Matt. 6:10 – and just to dot the i; Matt. 7:12. And oh yes – John 8:1-11; esp. stressing verse 7.

    You remember Brorson’s Church and the Iraqis? Well, some of them were Muslims. But still, they attended services, and received the sacrament/communion/I’m not completely sure of the terminology here, the blood of Jesus being alcoholic around here. One even came to Per (the Reverend), wanting to convert, wanting to be baptized.

    Do you think people should be denied if they come with the best of intentions? Like you said, with “willingness to dip their toes”. One of the main points of Protestantism (which I remember being clearly pronounced to me for the first time in Jerusalemskirken) is the recognition that we are all sinners – and we do need to recognize that. If people, especially strangers to being active Christians/active in any church, come in with the best of intentions, only to leave never to return because they leave with the notion that they’re expected to be perfect beyond recognition, thus feeling unwelcome (perhaps not only in mortal eyes – but maybe also in the eyes of the Holy Trinity), then where are we? Where’s the humanity? Where’s the forgiveness (Matt. 6:12,14-15)?

    If people concentrate on dividing/punishing people by what’s in the Scriptures, they should – if you ask me – also concentrate on the Great Comission (Matt. 28:16-20). What’s the best way to do this, you think – scaring the crap out of people, or making them feel welcome? If I didn’t believe the latter, I’d be an atheist gone Lutheran gone Methodist gone Pentecostal gone Jehova’s Witness or Mormon by now (but no, still “just” a Protestant, active in one Lutheran and one Methodist church).

    I don’t think you should concentrate on who can or cannot receive communion. Instead, you could pray for lost souls when you have less to think of. I’m just sayin’.

  • 4. Greg  |  Tuesday, 6th April 2010 at 17:45 UTC

    I meant to reply, but never found my round tuit. Oops.

    My biggest worry is that the end of your first paragraph looks like an admission of pick’n’mix Christianity. Whatever the source of your idea of “an inclusive, open Christianity”, it should lose to a biblical mandate when deciding Christian praxis – unless you got it from the bible, in which case you should justify it from there. As it is, you sound like you’re letting your politics get in front of your religion, which isn’t healthy.

    Like most people here, I’d err on the side of “if in doubt, administer”. However, Jesus’ commandment not to judge is wheeled out in error all the time, and I think the last comment sets up a false dichotomy. Christianity isn’t about being perfect, but it is about looking to Jesus to make us clean, so anyone who ignores that task and remains in unrepentant sin is a valid candidate for exclusion. You know my story, you know I wouldn’t say that lightly.

    As for the issue of other religions (Muslims in this case), I wouldn’t expect to participate fully in the ceremonies of any other religion and I’d actually think less of them if I as a professing Christian were allowed to do everything that the believers did. What does it say about the ceremony if it can be administered just any-old-how? What do the believers think of it if they’re prepared to administer it to me when I blatantly don’t believe?

    Duck, that may be your view of communion and you’re welcome to use your own definitions for your own ceremonies. However, while we’re talking about the way someone else administers their own ceremonies, we’ve got to use their own beliefs to appraise them.


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