In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Last week, our COM considered some of the new flexibility now allowed by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to serve the gospel to our ever-changing community. Shepherd of the Valley Presbyterian Church is unique in my knowledge, as one church that serves both people from Taiwan and mainland China. Actually, they serve people with a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, but those who know of the on-going tension between Taiwan and China are impressed that Shepherd of the Valley continues to strive to witness to the reconciling love of Jesus Christ.
Finding pastoral leadership for the three worship services at Shepherd of the Valley is a joyous challenge for our presbytery. Nancy Moore, who speaks English, and James Peng, who is Taiwanese, currently serve as temporary co-pastors, and Fischer Peng preaches in Mandarin for the people from China. Fischer has earned the MDiv degree from a Baptist seminary and is ordained as a Baptist pastor, but he has been a member and a ruling elder at Shepherd of the Valley for several years. He has been a gift to us, as we have a shortage of pastors who can teach and pastor to immigrants from China, many of whom are new Christians.
Shepherd of the Valley requested that Fischer be authorized to celebrate communion with the Mandarin service, which is allowed under G-3.0301b of the Book of Order. For all the years he has been their pastoral leader, they have had to ask one of the other pastors to preside at the table-I remember once preaching there and marveling at the intricate choreography that included the Mandarin speakers coming into the English service an hour after their own worship service had ended, so that they could take communion. (They have since changed it so they hold a bilingual service in Mandarin and English on communion Sundays, but there still have been occasional glitches with this system.)
Our COM interviewed Fischer to ensure that he understands the Reformed understanding of communion, and much of our discussion focused on another example of the PC(USA)’s new flexibility. In fact, some would consider this to be the most significant change with the newly adopted Directory for Worship, and that is the change in who may take communion.
Up until this new Directory for Worship, which was ratified in 2017, the Presbyterian Church stated that the Lord’s Table was a celebration of the baptized: “Around the Table of the Lord, God’s people are in communion with Christ and with all who belong to Christ”-and we who belong to Christ are marked through baptism. But the new Directory for Worship turns toward inclusion, focusing more on the radical grace of Jesus Christ in welcoming all to His table. See W-3.0409 for the theological view of communion in today’s PC(USA), which includes the following:
The opportunity to eat and drink with Christ is not a right bestowed upon the worthy, but a privilege given to the undeserving who come in faith, repentance, and love. All who come to the table are offered the bread and cup, regardless of their age or understanding. If some of those who come have not yet been baptized, an invitation to baptismal preparation and Baptism should be graciously extended.
I find that many (but not all) pastors get really worked up over the theology of communion, and almost no one else does. So some of you may wonder why I’m going on about this.
This may be important to me because one of the cornerstones of my ministry is my own sense of being excluded as an Asian-American woman. So for me, and perhaps for others, one of the most significant signs of God’s grace is the inclusiveness of the church, and Christ’s welcome to the Lord’s Table, as Jesus welcomed all to the table in the Gospels. This doesn’t mean all come and we do nothing to disciple them in the good news and mandates of Jesus Christ-but we must make every effort to be a facilitator, not an obstacle of God’s gracious welcome to all people, because we are all in need of forgiveness and healing.
One way we are able to extend God’s healing love to others, even those who can’t make it to our communion tables, is through the ministry of Rev. Elizabeth Gibbs-Zehnder, the Presbyterian chaplain at LAC+USC Medical Center, a ministry supported by or presbytery. Click HERE to see reports from two events she participated in last month, one a service of remembrance for 1,461 people who died without anyone to claim their bodies in death, another sharing handmade blankets to over 600 patients at the Center, many of whom are in need of companionship as well as physical healing.
This last weekend showed two extremes of the American understanding of welcome. We celebrated what would have been the 89th birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man whose faith led him to preach and act towards a vision where all people are welcomed, respected and loved as children of God. But we also heard a debate over who are welcome as immigrants to the United States. Amidst the disputes over this debate, it was clear that country (or continent) of origin seems to be a determining factor for some-and one defense of this view is that not only people from Europe would be favored, but so would people from Asia. To anyone who might be flattered by this, I beg you to reject it, because this creates a whole new layer of divisiveness for reasons that will not fit in this column.
One of the challenges that faces us who enjoy worldly privilege is how we negotiate our path of comfort along with Christ’s path of faithfulness. The one way that is harsh in its simplicity is to put our all, even our privilege, at the feet of the cross of Jesus. May we give our all, as Jesus gave his life, that all may be welcome to Christ’s table in glory. And may we make our churches, our community, even our nation and world, be places of gracious welcome, as God wills it.
In Christ’s peace,