Voices Together: The invitation to communion
This article originally appeared on Mennonite Church USA’s MennoSnapshots blog.
Sarah Kathleen Johnson is the worship resources editor for Voices Together and the editor of a companion volume for worship planners and leaders. She is a doctoral candidate in theology at the University of Notre Dame and is currently based in Toronto, Ontario.
Communion is about unity. It is about unity with God and with those gathered together at the table. It is about unity that circles the globe and that transcends time and tradition. When we share bread and cup in the name of Jesus, we celebrate a unity that is both already happening and not yet fully realized.
Perhaps because of the emphasis on unity in communion, questions about the supper often center on who is invited to receive the bread and cup. Are the bread and cup reserved for those who have been baptized or are they extended to all worshipers? In Anabaptist communities, this question takes on particular urgency because of the presence of children, youth, and others who have not been baptized.
Communion is a practice with many layers of meaning anchored in diverse biblical narratives, expansive theological themes, centuries of historical development, and complex pastoral realities.
It is understandable that communities living deeply into different dimensions of the meal have developed different practices regarding who is invited to receive the bread and cup. The subtleties of these discussions are beyond the scope of this blog post. However, the result is that Mennonite congregations in the United States and Canada have a broad range of practices when it comes to who is invited to the communion table.
Resources to support the celebration of communion are being developed for Voices Together, a new worship and song collection for Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA. Because decisions about who is invited to receive the bread and cup are made by congregations, not the national churches, our aim is to provide resources that support a range of practices. Therefore, we gave ourselves a difficult assignment: to develop two invitations to the communion table that could be used both in congregations that require baptism and that invite all present to receive the bread and cup, one invitation that makes a connection to baptism, and one that emphasizes expansive welcome. Here are the preliminary results, which you are welcome to try out in your congregation (please attribute to Mennonite Worship and Song Committee, 2018):
Invitation to the Communion Table A
Invitation to the Communion Table B
Invitation A emphasizes expansive welcome yet anchors this welcome in the story of Jesus’ final week and last meal with his disciples, a close and committed while also flawed community.
Invitation B emphasizes a connection between baptism and communion yet anchors this link in the baptism of Jesus as the model for the baptism of all members of the body of Christ, rather than in renewing our baptisms as individuals.
Both invitations are deliberately vague — they do not specify who is invited to receive the bread and cup and who is not.
The Voices Together committee strongly encourages congregations to make intentional and theologically grounded choices about who is invited to participate in communion in what ways.
We also advise that it is usually most hospitable to communicate clearly regarding whatever policy is in place. Communities may also wish to recognize that, even if an invitation is extended to all, some may choose not to receive the bread and cup.
The Voices Together committee is exploring including one additional invitation to the table borrowed from the Iona Community. This invitation celebrates how Jesus is the host of the communion meal and that it is in Christ that our ultimate invitation and unity resides.
Invitation to the Communion Table C
The Voices Together committee welcomes your reflections on these resources as they relate to communion practices in your communities. Comments received before April 1 will be considered in the revision process (SarahJ@MennoMedia.org).
 Vision (Spring 2001) explores some of these questions from a Mennonite perspective, Liturgy (2005 Issue 4) offers perspectives from a range of Christian traditions. These matters have also been engaged in The Canadian Mennonite and The Mennonite.
 Wild Goose Worship Group, Iona Community (Scotland), A Wee Worship Book: Fourth Incarnation, 1999.Tags: A Wee Worship Book, communion, communion invitation, Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonite Church USA, Sarah Johnson, Sarah Kathleen Johnson, voices together, worship, worship resources