DRIVING home from church to day my children complained that the service was so long they were starving. After having celebrated Communion that's all they could think about since we didn't leave church until twelve-fifty. They had a right to be tired and hungry, for the service lasted nearly two hours. From shortly after noon onward they had been restless as they realized the service was only half over. Each hymn sung after twelve o'clock added to their frustration.
What can we do to streamline our communion service and at the same time not sacrifice but enhance its meaning? Surely nothing is gained when our children feel that this most important of church services is so time consuming.
As a parent greatly concerned that the communion service be come a meaningful occasion for young people and visitors, I'd like to make my criticism constructive by suggesting some things that might be done to make the ordinances a service the whole family can appreciate:
1. Allow no other "special events" to take place on the same Sabbath. The service mentioned in the first paragraph included a baptism, ordination service, and five minutes of announcements. Let Communion have its rightful place. Give it sole priority that day.
2. Begin the church service on time. If this necessitates a Friday evening or early Sabbath morning rehearsal, then arrange for one. But begin on time. This will be appreciated by your congregation and will show you have prepared for the occasion.
3. Keep the announcements to a bare minimum. If necessary mimeograph a separate or additional sheet for the bulletin in order to say less publicly. The announcements should include a word about "open communion" to put visitors at ease.
4. Choose short hymns. Keep away from those with four or five stanzas. If you need to use a long hymn, sing only the first and last stanzas—two stanzas appreciated are better than all five sung with a restless longing to stop.
5. Instruct the organist to play a short introduction to each hymn. It is not necessary and is time consuming to play a hymn all the way through before the congregation begins to sing.
6. Choose an appropriate but brief Scripture reading, if one is to be used. The text should be selected from the sermonet of the hour. Keep the service unified.
7. Keep the sermonet down to ten minutes or less. If well planned, a ten-minute talk can be most effective. Make one germane point. Remember there is also an acted-out sermon involved in the communion service itself.
8. Give explicit definition that the "ordinance of humility" means foot washing! Tell the visitors what it is! Assure them they are welcome to (a) participate, (b) observe, or (c) remain in the sanctuary. Have the organist or pianist play for those who choose to stay in the church.
9. Have a story read or told to the children whose parents are engaged in the foot-washing service. A dramatized recording such as "The Bible in Living Sound" of the crucifixion or Last Supper would be an appropriate interlude for the young ones at this point.
10. One observation regarding the act of Communion itself. Many a young mother has experienced the exasperation of trying to hold a small glass of grape juice for two or three minutes all the while trying to keep baby's hands off the temptation. As a youth I belonged to a small Protestant congregation whose practice would alleviate this problem. Each participant partook of the juice as soon as he was served. The congregation partook of the bread together signifying the unity of the Christian body. The juice was drunk separately indicating the necessity of an individual application of the benefits of Christ's atoning blood. One need only think back to the original Communion to remember the wine at least was drunk.separately.
11. A further idea would be to vary the passages read during the act of Communion. Passages such as Philippians 2:1-11, 1 Peter 1:18-22, or Hebrews 9:24-28 will add a touch of newness for those alert juniors who can repeat from memory 1 Corinthians 11 and Matthew 26:26.
My wife remembers childhood celebrations of Communion as the day when she went home from church hungry. Let's make Communion meaningful and send our members, old and young, home at noon—full!