Last week, I noted one of the weirder regional differences I’ve noticed this year: the dramatic increase in communion whenever I’ve been up north. (Here’s that post.)
Funny thing, I don’t know that I ever took communion in the 7 church services I attended in Ohio last week. So apparently Columbus and Cincinnati don’t count as “north” for the purposes of this statistic.
Or maybe – and this is important – this is no scientific study! It’s true! I took enough statistics in college (as a Psych major) to know this trip has never really included a “random sampling” of churches or college ministries. It’s not random. It’s planned – well, at least enough not to be considered random!
Still, the preponderance of communion in many northern regions (Chicago, Boston, Northern California, and the Great Northwest are the main places I’ve been) provides grounds for a pretty good hypothesis – that the Lord’s Supper is “partaken of” (?) more often in the northern parts of the U.S.
And if any 5th grader out there wants to do a true Science Fair project to test it, you might just find my hypothesis holds true.
But the question I asked last week was, “Why?,” and you guys who responded gave some great thoughts. I’ll include their answers and my own ideas below – feel free to add your own theories in the comments!
I’m an analyzer. So… sorry if this gets a little analytical. Please realize, I don’t mean to be cold about a practice that is so powerful and meaningful; in fact, the preponderance of communion services has really made me appreciate communion more, not less, particularly because this regularity was new to me.
So here are some thoughts:
1. Communion is liturgical, liturgy is vintage, and vintage is appreciated. The Lord’s Supper is one of the most liturgical things “non-liturgical” churches do, right? This practice often has formula and process and preparation and presentation that can feel quite patterned and quite solemn – and those aren’t bad things.
Liturgy feels awfully “vintage,” and as I’ve noted before, vintage is in. That’s what’s funny about this – and what “S.” noted in the comments on last week’s blog: Being “contemporary,” in this case, works backwards by (re)introducing this “ancient practice” of ritual communion. And as she also (correctly, I think) recognized, northern churches are more likely to aim for progressive church models.
Even if “progress” involves “regress.”
Notably, the Supper is often administered in ways other than passing-the-elements-down-the-rows – like receiving the elements from others, partaking of it at a “private altar” elsewhere in the room, or “intinction” – dipping the bread into the drink.
Participation in “vintage” certainly applies to Emerging-style churches… and many of these seem to make communion a major part of services on a weekly basis. (More on them in a second.)
2. Today, church people can be touchy. And I mean it in a good way!
Remember, we’ve seen that it’s not just “vintage” that is appreciated these days, but people (and especially those in this rising Millennial generation) want authentic vintage – “authentage.” And nothing feels more authentic than tangibility, than the opportunity to take active, “touchy” part in a little Passion Play. (Or, for our buddies who go beyond the symbolic view of communion, there’s even more “touchiness” in view.)
You’re touching the bread. It might be held for a little while. You’re tasting it. You’re tasting the drink. There’s even some smelling involved. It’s tangible. It’s a special sort of authentic, involving more senses than the normal sight-sound of your average church service.
As new, northern church plants continue to pop up, then, they’re pretty likely to head this authentage direction more quickly than longstanding churches with longstanding methodology.
3. Church-type makes a big difference. I also might have stumbled upon more communion services up north because of the denominations that are most numerous up here. While I’m not completely sure of all those fellowships with a tradition of regular participation in the Lord’s table, I’m guessing there are plenty up here with that practice.
Even churches that are not part of denominations that hold regular communion, their proximity may still influence the way other churches “do church,” too. As my bud Shelly noted, the familiarity of regular communion may be appealing to those who have grown up with this practice.
Meanwhile, church in the South (where I’ve experienced communion far less frequently this year) may fall into categories less likely to hold weekly communion. Three groups I can think of are BIG churches, Southern Baptist churches, and non-denominational churches:
- Megachurches probably find it pretty logistically difficult to administer communion weekly. And for those with a large number of “seekers” in the weekend services, communion may be reserved for other, “member-oriented” services.
- As I know personally, quarterly communion is fairly common within SBC congregations. While I’m not completely sure of the reasons, I think one reason is that some see infrequency in the Lord’s Supper as aiding the reverence and “specialness” attached to the event. So because the SBC is the largest Protestant denomination AND most of its presence is still in the southern U.S., this tradition touches a whole lot of churches.
- Non-denominational churches may have similar ideas in view. Further, the absence of a denomination means these churches are particularly free to hold communion as they see fit, without any particular tradition to consider.
- Finally, as I mentioned above, many southern churches are simply older, which naturally means some are less likely to make changes in methodology.
4. It’s counter-cultural. Communion? Counter-cultural? Sure it is! Many of those leading “cutting-edge” churches – including those in the North – grew up in churches with infrequent communion. These and other church planters may be reacting – for good or for ill – to much of what they’ve seen in American Christianity. For some, taking the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis is a unique – and certainly still orthodox – way to look different from First Church down the street.
As others have long noted, “reaction” may be behind some of the Emerging Church methodology. And if any Protestants seem to be administering a lot of communion, it’s many Emerging churches!
But for lots of northern churches, “Emerging” style or not, having communion on a regular basis is simply something “new” to try.
So, welcome to the 21st century. Or perhaps the 1st.
Written from Richfield, MN, in the Twin Cities area