I have a friend named Ryan.
Ryan challenges me daily. His approach to life and theology is fresh and exciting… and more than a little scary to my traditional sentiment. This week we celebrated communion at the new worshiping community he leads here in Louisville.
Hearing him speak about communion is always fun for me. Everything from offering Powerbars and Gatorade at marathons to wishing for jelly doughnuts (his idea of a perfect blend of bread and “wine”) challenges the conventional vision of breaking bread together. He reminds me that what has become so mundane for many is really an opportunity to share our lives with others. Today, however, I was reminded of the first communion I celebrated during my year as a Young Adult Volunteer in Belfast.
When I lived in Northern Ireland, I worked at a church called Fortwilliam and Macrory. Before the service each week I would run around the sanctuary like a busy bee, checking that the screens were working, the handouts were printed and everything was running according to schedule. The mass of jingling keys around my wrist clearly signaled me as a staff member.
On my first Communion Sunday at FMPCI, I chose a seat near the middle of the church as the service began, excited to experience communion for the first time since arriving in Belfast. I sat across the aisle from a scruffy man I’d never seen before who was clearly uncomfortable in the church setting. Right before communion began, he leaned across the aisle and asked me for a cup of coffee. I asked him to follow me into the staff break room, where I heated up the kettle and measured the frozen coffee granules into two cups. Those two cups became three as a woman who was sitting nearby, clearly concerned for my safety alone with this man, joined us. I rustled up some stale biscuits (what we’d call cookies here in the States) from the cupboard and set the table for our impromptu meeting.
He told us the story of how he ended up at the halfway house across the street – showing us his arms scarred from years of self-harm and describing the deep, inexplicable need he felt to attend church that morning. We finished our “cuppa” and prepared to rejoin the congregation for the tail end of the service. Our well-meaning companion pulled me aside and apologized for his rude behavior, telling me that she knew I participated in Communion, unlike many of the people in the church who feel unworthy to participate in the Lord’s meal. By leaving the service, she acknowledged that I had missed a rare opportunity to participate in communion at this church.
The realization that so many of the people who have dedicated their life to this church do not feel worthy of its most basic sacrament hurt me deeply. I explained to my well-meaning friend that although I had missed the bread and wine, I had taken communion with her that day. That sharing our lives over instant coffee and stale shortbread was as much communion as partaking of the bread and the cup.
Currently the Administrative Assistant for the office of Special Offerings, Tricia McReynolds served as a Young Adult Volunteer in Belfast, Northern Ireland during the 2012-13 cycle. You can read more about her experience as a YAV at mcyav.blogspot.com.