Monday, July 29, 2013

But Why Can't We Have Communion?

You might have heard of Green Street United Methodist Church in Winston Salem. This is the congregation that voted last winter to stop celebrating weddings of heterosexual couples until gay couples can also get married in North Carolina. They are one of the few Reconciling worship communities in the Western NC District of the UMC (Last I checked, the other one is the campus ministry at UNCG). For those reading this who are not Methodists, that means that they are welcoming and supportive of LGBTQ folk. It’s sad, but that’s where I live.

For the record, some other denominations, including my own, have better track records in this neck of the woods, so don’t write off North Carolina as backwards—well, except out state government at the moment. I am just grateful I get to work with the UNCG chaplain and community.
So since I have been on vacation for July, I decided to do a mini version of the sabbatical trips I took last year to churches doing things differently. Greet Street also had a reputation for being well integrated economically, age, wise, race, community, etc. And they have a jazz group leading the music. More than enough reason to visit.

Green Street sits in an area that is close to both poor and middle class communities. At church, tattooed bikers sit next to elders in suits. Gay couples feel comfortable holding hands sitting next to solo middle aged women. Almost the kingdom of God, right?

Well, not exactly. I think I was the only black male in the full nave who was not in the music team. And has anyone examined the question of why the Black women are almost all in the rear and to the sides? There is a dynamic going on here that I don’t really understand, but I certainly noticed it. Someone should be asking that question.

I thought it was interesting that almost all the music was old hymns. “I Woke Up this Morning“, It’s Me, O Lord”, and “This Little Light of Mine” were all sung. Mostly hymns that don’t need hymnals, though we did pull them out before the service was over. Of course, in my near perfect record, I managed to go there when the pastor was not preaching (see also an upcoming report on Renovatus in Charlotte), but Mandy Mizelle did a fine job.

Announcements went on entirely too long, and even the pastor Kelly Carpenter had to jump in to stop it. I must say the congregation really reached out during the passing of the peace. They seem genuinely happy that people are there. It’s a large enough crowd that you don’t know everybody, and sometimes that leads to visitors being ignored. Not here!

But I have one question for Green Street and the UMC in general. Everybody else is getting on the communion bandwagon, recognizing it as the principle service of Christian communities since the ancient church. All the new non-denoms are clear on its centrality—they may not know how to do it, but they do see it as important—so why do y’all act like stubborn holdouts? You’re doing a great job so far in bringing people together. Celebrate that in the Lord’s Meal for heaven’s sake! Yes, I know you are not well set up for that logistically. So what. You can make the changes if you want it to happen.

Anyway, you obviously have a lot of good things going on. And, to be truthful, I’ve been the only Black man in worship many times on the congregational visits (except the sound guy who is almost always Black!), so it’s a problem a lot of folks are having. Your marriage stance on the other hand,  is prophetic. The Shalom Project (their outreach ministry) is admirable and keeps the worshiping community outwardly focused.

Just offer me communion. Please?