Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What is world communion?

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College.

This Sunday is World Communion Sunday in The United Methodist Church. This begs the question: What does the UMC mean when it talks about "world communion"?  We will look at three different answers in this post.

On the most practical level, World Communion Sunday is one of the six Sundays of the year that the UMC has designated as denomination-wide Special Sundays, where special offerings are collected to serve specific ministry purposes in the church.  The offerings from World Communion Sunday are split.  Half goes to scholarships for ethnic minorities in the United States; half goes to the Central Conferences outside the United States to be used for educational purposes.  This happens through three programs: the World Communion Leadership Development Program, the Ethnic Minority Scholarship Program, and the Ethnic In-Service Training Program.

On a second level, one might think about the "communion" mentioned as the sacrament of communion.  Since World Communion Sunday is on the first Sunday of the month, many United Methodist churches will be celebrating communion this Sunday.  World Communion Sunday thus becomes a chance to think about how people all over the world are celebrating communion on the same day.  This sacrament unites us on levels of both practice and theology.

This leads us to a final notion of world communion: "communion" as being joined together, as the etymology of the word would suggest.  On World Communion Sunday, we celebrate how the church around the world is joined together as one.  In the UMC, we are joined together by denominational structures and organizational and financial considerations.  We are also joined together in a spiritual sense, though.  As Jesus prayed in his petition to God for unity among his followers, "As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us." (John 17:21)  We Christians are all united because we are all part of Jesus and God the Father through Jesus.  Therefore, we are connected to one another.  We might also think of the body analogy in 1 Corinthians 12 here.

The 1 Corinthians 12 passage reminds us of a corollary of this interpretation of world communion: we are joined to people who are different from us.  Perhaps that difference is, as this blog frequently highlights, a difference of culture and nationality.  Perhaps that difference is, as much of the rest of UMC blogosphere has been talking about, a difference of theology or views on sexuality.  That difference can take other forms as well.  The bottom line, though, is that if we're connected to Jesus, that also means we're connected to fellow Christians, even fellow Christians that we may not agree with or like or want to be connected to.  Yet this too is a sign of grace - that God's love, God's fellowship, God's communion is greater than we are, that the Spirit overflows our boundaries and runs into the entire world, bringing the good news with it.

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