What is communion to you? Is it a group of people having a common religious faith, like a denomination? Is it that bit of the church service you eat bread and drink wine?
Is it a fellowship, an association? Is it the sharing of thoughts and emotions, a form of intimate communication? Is if the act of sharing? Is it all of these, none of these, some of these? They are some of what the dictionary offers.
I’m not sure I can answer my own question, not easily anyway. Communion is not one thing to me. I guess it is parts of many things, in many aspects of my life. It is important, treasured and gives me direction. I see it on a daily basis. And maybe more to the point, I feel it on a daily basis.
A few weeks ago I was part of an amazing, encouraging, inclusive experience. This experience, this one evening, has shifted and stretched my views on communion and what it is. I guess this is mainly within the more tradition church context of the receiving and sharing of bread and wine, but it also affects the other ways in which I see and feel it with the people around me.
What does it mean to you to come to a table of communion? What does it mean to you to share in that fellowship meal? What would you do if you felt unable to participate in that?
On this evening that shifted my thinking, around fifty people gathered in the church I am part of and took part in a Transgender Remembrance Commemoration Service. Transgender Remembrance Day is held each year on the 20th November, and this evening was our way of marking this day in our church and with the people gathered. The evening began with story and song from a very dear friend of mind; stories and songs about being transgender and the influence that has on his faith and his life journeying with God.
“You know life is strange and maybe I don’t see things the same as you. Try not to judge and you might find people have less to hide. I’m a funny kinda guy, I’m a gentle kinda guy.” © Simon de Voil
“Grief is the way of the world, tragic tale for us all. She said she was so lonely wrapped up in the fabric of my past...taken away her light. The choices we make, sacrifices we take. I breathe for us both now.” © Simon de Voil
With so much to already contemplate and reflect on it was time for communion and the prayers for those who have been killed in the past year due to transgender violence. On any day of the year eliminating transphobia is an issue I am passionate about, yet this evening this was even more clear for me. To stand in front of a group of around fifty LGBT people and their friends and family and be able to welcome them to a table of communion is something I never imagined myself doing. I had never really imagined myself helping to celebrate communion either. There are so many points of disagreement within churches, so to enable the often marginalised people in our society to come in to this church and receive communion is an experience that is hard to put in to words.
Eat this bread, drink this wine.
So why ‘circular communion’? Why not just ‘communion’? After welcoming people to this table and celebrating communion we moved on to reading the names of those who had been killed, along with prayers and the lighting of candles. Once these names were read the congregation were invited to bring their votive candle to the communion table, light it, place it with the others and then receive the bread and the wine if they wanted to do so. There was no pressure, there was not somebody giving it to you, there was nobody to pass it on to. There was just you and God. That one person after lighting and placing their candle could decide for themselves if they were going to take the bread and the wine. A truly open table. A table encircling the prayers for those whose lives have been lost.
Celebrating, remembering, praying, giving, receiving.
Does communion ever stop? Can it ever stop? Is it a continual, circular, encompassing part of life? I’m not sure the answers to so many of my questions will ever be clear, to me as an individual or to a whole community of people. But what I do know is that this is important. No matter how you see communion and what it is, it is important. It brings people together. It brings people together when it is given the chance to. It will find a way. Communion is beyond a firm description of words, and that’s the way I feel like it should be. It is a God given gift. Can Gods gifts can be put in to firm words? They continue, they circle us, they ground us. Let’s let them do that and not put up barriers to them.
© Simon de Voil www.simondevoil.co.uk