Guest Post: Breaking Bread on the Sabbath–A Hope
I have been thinking the past few days about a woman named Lavina Fielding Anderson. I do not know her personally, but I thought about her a lot five years ago when I was going through an immensely heartbreaking time as I struggled a great deal with my faith–my faith in general and the Mormon faith that is my home. For the first time in my life I chose to stop attending Mormon services. That summer I walked up the street to a homely little stone Lutheran church on my street on the Sundays I could manage to leave my apartment. It was a small congregation–perhaps 50 and scarcer still in the summer–more diverse and with far fewer children than any ward I have ever attended.
The pastor was young and inspiring, his social justice sermons a balm to my soul at that time. But what healed me was their communion. They invited all to stand in a circle and receive the emblems–bread and grape juice or wine–together. I was trying to stay anonymous and to stand in a circle with these strangers felt deeply uncomfortable and strange. The pastor walked around the circle personally breaking pieces of bread from a homemade crumbly loaf and giving them to each congregant. He was followed by a woman and man who offered a choice of grape juice or wine. The congregation stood in a circle until all had received these emblems. He called it a meal, a feast that Christ had laid for us all to partake of as a faith community. Communion was together, rather than something we all did at the same time. It was joyous and strange and it completely shifted my perspective on what sacrament or communion could be. It made me weep week after week, both because it felt so holy and because it drove home my estrangement from my own community.
I thought about Lavina today (and back then) because she was excommunicated from the Mormon faith in 1992 but has faithfully attended her own church services week after week since. She raised her child in the faith. She found ways to offer service that did not require membership. And she sat, week after week, as the sacrament passed by her, unable to partake of those emblems she considered holy. I felt in awe of the strength of her faith and conviction, which far surpassed my own. She is a widow now and she continues to attend her ward. Last week, her request (initiated by her own bishop) to be rebaptized into the faith was denied by the first presidency. She provided a powerful testimony of her faith–in God, and prophets and the institutional faith but did not renounce her feminism, her concerns about the diminished role of a female deity, or exclusion policies. Her testimony was not enough.
With two small children, I often miss the sacrament. But on Sunday I made sure to take it in honor of Lavina and as I took it, I thought about a quote from an article she wrote: “As I hope for forgiveness, so I must offer it. And I do. We must mutually acknowledge our pain, whether intentionally or unintentionally inflicted. We must ask for and offer forgiveness. We must affirm the goals of charity, integrity, loyalty and honesty that are foundational in the gospel. Such forgiveness, such acceptance hold the promise of movement toward Christlike community.”
I agree with Joanna Brooks that “excommunication is a 19th century solution to 21st century challenges,” but somehow, it seems that Lavina is at peace today, and I am pretty sure she went to church–and very sure she did not take the sacrament. I still aspire to her rock firm faith that the church is big enough for all of us, all God’s children, even those of us who have lots of questions, and/or are different–especially the people who don’t look like us. She is sure of her place in the community of God and that no one can take it away from her. She has taught me lessons about faith and forgiveness and grace that help me to keep working at feeling sure of my place at church. And I’ll keep hoping for a day when the sacrament is not just an individual ritual or ordinance but an actual community feast, a meal that we all partake in–because sitting together in love and forgiveness, to break bread and love and forgive one another in spite of differences, to celebrate a universal worth of being children of God. Well. It will be holy. And I will probably weep.
Ashley lives in New York City with her husband and two little girls. She is a writer and a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in trauma, post-partum and peri-natal issues.