In a time of economic crisis and impending war, Presbyterians broke bread together and prayed for the world. That’s how World Communion Sunday began. Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr proposed the idea of World Communion Sunday to his congregation at Shadyside Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, in 1933. Earlier that year, unemployment in the Great Depression had peaked at 25%, and Adolf Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany.
The observance of World Communion Sunday on the first Sunday in October was formally established by the Presbyterian Church three years later, in 1936. In subsequent decades the celebration began to spread to other denominations, and in 1967 it was adopted by the National Council of Churches.
Dr. Kerr’s son Donald Craig Kerr recalls: “The concept spread very slowly at the start. People did not give it a whole lot of thought. It was perhaps during the Second World War that the spirit caught hold, because we were trying to hold the world together. Worldwide Communion symbolized the effort to hold things together in a spiritual sense. It emphasized that we are one in the Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (quoted in 1997 article by John Dalles in Church Worship).
To be honest, I have mixed feelings about designating a particular Sunday as World Communion Sunday. Shouldn’t every Sunday be World Communion Sunday? (And I do mean every Sunday!) Isn’t every service of Communion an opportunity to gather with people “from north and south, from east and west,” to join our voices “with all the faithful of every time and place” singing praise to God, to pray that the Spirit will make us “one with Christ” and “one with all who share this feast, united in ministry in every place,” and to be sent out “to be the body of Christ in the world”?
Next year (October 2, 2011) will be the 75th anniversary of the establishment of World Communion Sunday in the Presbyterian Church. Here’s a modest proposal: As a way of commemorating this historic occasion, what if Presbyterian churches committed to celebrating the Lord’s Supper every Sunday for a year? During the fifty-two Sundays between October 2, 2011, and October 7, 2012, congregations could make a special effort to employ liturgical resources from a variety of global traditions and songs of praise and prayer from around the world. Throughout the year, churches and individuals could pray for global partners in mission and ministry, using the Mission Yearbook as a resource and guide. And throughout the year, in personal, family, and public life, in local and global ways, Presbyterians could rededicate themselves to pursue peace and seek reconciliation for the sake of Christ’s coming realm, God’s new creation.
What do you think? Are you with me? I’d love to hear comments, critique, ideas. I’d also love to collaborate with others to create brief communion liturgies for this purpose, especially incorporating prayer for the world and global praise.
Posted by David Gambrell on 10/02/2010 at 05:32 PM