The Rules of Hospitality
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?