World Communion Sunday – celebrated in most places the first Sunday in October, is pushed one week later at LOCC due to our annual Blessing of the Animals which occurs most often the first Sunday of October, on the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Francis, October 4.
World Communion Sunday has taken on new relevancy and depth of meaning in a world where globalization often has undermined peace and justice – and in a time when fear divides the peoples of God’s earth. World Wide Communion Sunday, as it was originally known, was begun at Shadyside Presbyterian Church (USA), Pittsburgh, PA, by their pastor, Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr, in 1933.
In 1936, for the first time, the first Sunday in October was celebrated in Presbyterian churches in the United States and overseas. From the beginning, it was planned so that other denominations could make use of it and, after a few years, the idea spread beyond the Presbyterian Church.
What was the world like, in the autumn of 1933? Surprisingly, not much different from the world today.
1933 was the darkest year of the Great Depression. The storm clouds of Nazism and Fascism hovered all over Europe and threatened the entire world. The prevailing mood was anxiety — fear about economics, fear about politics and fear about the future.
As a faith response to these fears, a group of leaders at Shadyside Presbyterian Church sought to do something both real and symbolic, to proclaim that God is God indeed, in spite of politics, economics and future shock. How, they wondered, might one church counteract the pessimism of the larger society? How might they succeed in eliminating the walls of separation between Christians? Such a quest was not new to the members of Shadyside Presbyterian Church.
When Donald Kerr was asked how the idea of World Communion Sunday spread from that first service to the world wide practice of today, this is what he replied:
“The concept spread very slowly at the start. People did not give it a whole lot of thought. It was during the Second World War that the spirit caught hold, because we were trying to hold the world together. World Wide Communion symbolized the effort to hold things together, in a spiritual sense. It emphasized that we are one in the Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Now, decades later, the dream of all of us gathering on one Sunday, around one table, seems as much of an impossible dream as it did in 1933. We see the connections between individual believers, congregations and denominations stretched to the uttermost limits. Yet, when we all share the Meal where Christ is Host, we are connected in ways that go beyond our personal preferences, or theological scuffles, as well as transcending boundaries of geography and language. What we find on World Communion Sunday is a dissolving of those things that might hurt or divide us. Around this Table together, we broadcast our faith to the world and say, “Come and dine; there is room for all!”
World Communion Sunday is a time for remembering that around the globe — in different languages, with different traditions and customs, and in various forms of liturgy — services around the Table are celebrated throughout Christendom.
At its best, World Communion Sunday helps open our eyes to the worldwide nature of Christianity, reminds us of the traditions and needs of Christian churches thousands of miles away, and might be the entry point to an international perspective that connects us globally in the bonds of love and justice. There is important work to be done with regard to cultural understanding and mission, and World Communion Sunday can be the spark that creates ongoing global concern within communities of faith.
World Communion Sunday is on the Christian calendar for a reason. It is to be a time of profound Christian unity, marked by our shared celebration at The Lord’s Table.
Ours is the task of building up the body, not breaking it down. At the Table, may we be reminded that conversations that pit one against another, comments that drive a wedge between one church and another, systems that separate communities of faith from others, are contrary to God’s plan and purpose. People who undermine the goals of others, congregations that do everything to succeed to the point of undermining the ministry of another congregation, denominations or publications that seek to discredit others, are not doing God’s work. We say these things faithfully and well, when we share in World Communion Sunday.