Today we celebrated the communion service. Afterward, my children complained on the way home that it had lasted so long that they were starving.
They had a right to be tired and hungry. We had walked out of the church at 12:50. Communion had been a two-hour affair, and from noon on they had been restless, seeing the service was only half over. Each hymn sung after twelve o'clock was another aggravation.
Unfortunately, that testimony is not unique or always confined to children.
What can we do to streamline the communion service and, at the same time, enhance, not sacrifice, its meaning? Surely nothing is gained by causing our children to feel that one of the most important of the church's celebrations is also the most irritating and difficult. As a parent, and as one who is concerned to make the communion service a significant occasion for young people and for visitors, I would like to make a few suggestions:
1. Allow no other special events to take place on the same Sabbath with the communion service. The Sabbath that caused my children's complaints was a marathon that included a baptism, ordination service, and five minutes of announcements as well as the communion service. Let Communion have its rightful place; give it sole priority in that day's service.
2. Begin the church service on time. If this necessitates a Friday evening or early Sabbath morning rehearsal, then arrange it. But start on time.
3. Keep announcements to a bare minimum. If necessary, mimeograph an additional sheet for the bulletin in order to say less. Include a word about open Communion to put visitors at ease.
4. Choose short hymns. Avoid those with four or five stanzas. If you feel for some reason that you must select a lengthy hymn, don't feel compelled to sing all the stanzas. Two sung with appreciation are better than all five sung with a restless longing to stop.
5. Instruct the organist to play only a short introduction to each hymn. It is time-consuming and unnecessary to play a hymn completely through before the congregation begins to sing.
6. Choose an appropriate, but brief, Scripture reading, if you usually use such in the service. Select a text that is connected with the morning message to keep the service unified.
7. Keep your sermonette no longer than ten minutes. If well-planned, a ten-minute talk can be most effective. Make one germane point about Jesus, the crucifixion, Communion, et cetera. Remember there will also be a sermon acted out during the celebration of Communion.
8. Specifically explain that the ordinance of humility means footwashing! Don't assume visitors know what it is; tell them. Assure them they are welcome to participate, observe, or remain in the sanctuary. The organist or pianist can play for those who choose to stay.
9. Make provision for the children whose parents are engaged in the footwashing service. A story or dramatized recording of the crucifixion or last supper (such as the "Bible in Living Sound") 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 while trying to keep baby's hands off the temptation. As a young person, I belonged to a small Protestant congregation whose practice would alleviate this problem. Each participant drank the juice as soon as he was served. The congregation ate the bread together, signifying the unity of the Christian body. But 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 realize that the wine, at least, was drunk separately.
11. Vary the Scripture 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 11:23-26 and Matthew 26:26-30.
I don't want my children to remember communion Sabbath as the day they go home from church tired and hungry. Let's feed the congregation the Living Bread and send them home at noon— full!