The Sacrament/Communion, Ordination, and Belonging

A small cup of grape juice and a bit of bread rest on a wooden table. http://www.summersidechurch.org/communion/

I’ve probably taken the sacrament/communion more than 1500 times in my life. As a practicing Mormon, I took it weekly for years and as part of Community of Christ, I take it monthly. I was taught that the sacrament was about remembering the covenants made at baptism. It is what the sacrament prayers (LDS D&C 20:77, 79, CoC D&C 17:22d, 23b) say: we are willing to take on the name of Jesus, remember him always, and keep his commandments. In return, we get to have the Spirit with us. If I were to ask a room full of Primary children about the meaning of this ritual, they would probably chant back in a chorus that the sacrament is about remembering our baptismal covenants.

I never questioned that meaning. I have always sat in a pew or chairs, listened, and received the bread and water/grape juice. Sometimes it has felt like a special moment, but many times it has felt routine. Sometimes it has felt very difficult to pay attention, as I’ve been distracted by wiggly children who needed help staying quiet.

All that changed few weeks ago. At the end of July, Emily Rose (my pastor) and Robin Linkhart (an apostle) put their hands on my head and at the end of the prayer I was an elder in Community of Christ. I’d been preparing for ordination for months, and had felt a call for years. I was fortunate to share the moment with many women in my Mormon feminist community.

Soon after, I had the opportunity to lead communion by offering one of the prayers. I was told many times in my life that it didn’t matter that women were not able to hold the priesthood, as they were able to receive the blessings of participating in church ordinances. I was suspicious of those responses and had long suspected that conducting ordinances and participating in them were different experiences than simply receiving them. After all, Church leaders giving those answers had never been denied the priesthood or opportunities to serve in a ritual capacity, or told that they could not help prepare the bread and water. It is frustrating to hear that your exclusion is both important and meaningless.

On that first occasion of giving the prayer and passing the tray, I experienced unexpected things. Instead of remembering baptismal covenants, I felt overwhelmed with feelings of loving belonging. In that moment, I knew that I belonged in my Mormon feminist and Community of Christ communities doing this work. I felt God’s love and that same sense of belonging for the women and girls I was serving, including believers, non-believers, and those who were unsure of their belief, who did not always feel acceptance and belonging in LDS spaces. I felt the strength of that connection to God and community and that feeling never really left me. It is my most solidly joyful memory of this whole year, even eclipsing the strong feelings of love and connection I felt at ordination.

Communion marked this belonging, this outpouring of God’s love and a sense of belonging without conditions, questions about worthiness, or judgment. We just belonged and God was present in that loving belonging.

The sacrament/communion recalls Jesus’ Last Supper, where he sat with his disciples, including Judas, and asked them to remember him. A misfit group of men (and perhaps the women were left out of the record) from different professions, with different characters and reputations, who rarely seemed to understand the magnitude of Jesus’ message, one of whom would betray Jesus, breaking bread and drinking wine together. Jesus claimed them all, a powerful example of loving belonging.

Nancy Ross

Nancy Ross is an art history professor by day and a sociologist of religion by night. She lives in St. George, Utah with her husband and two daughters and co-hosts the Faith Transitions podcast.

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13 Responses

  1. Violadiva says:

    What a beautiful and long-awaited experience! Your kindness and open-heartedness will partner so well with your priesthood leadership and ministry. Thank you for being a voice of love and inclusion.

  2. Linda Swsyne says:

    As an LDS member who is also attending the Community of Christ, I thank you for this article. Well written and inspiring in many levels. May God bless you Sister.
    Linda Swayne (Facebook)
    Full name is Linda Swayne Gifford

  3. Wendy says:

    What a moving post about a powerful experience. Thank you for sharing this with us, Nancy. And congratulations on your ordination. How glorious!

  4. Ziff says:

    I love this, Nancy. Thanks so much for sharing it!

  5. Jon Miranda says:

    Jon
    How do you give something to someone that you do not have yourself?

    • Nancy Ross says:

      It seems like you are trying to make passive-aggressive comments about the priesthood in CoC. I would just like to point out that the priesthood in the LDS and CoC traditions trace a very similar line of authority that goes back to Joseph Smith…

  6. Moss says:

    “It is frustrating to hear that your exclusion is both important and meaningless.” This is profound- this is the dissonance that I experience as a woman in the church.
    “A powerful example of loving belonging.” How your words make my heart sing. Just lovely.

  7. Wondering Why says:

    As wonderful as this experience is for Nancy the only conclusion for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that their church is false and the Reorganized Church had it right all along.

    The leaders of the Congregation of Christ have done the Lord’s will and extended the priesthood to those seeking it.

    • Nancy Ross says:

      I don’t think that we have to work in a paradigm that either the LDS Church is 100% True or 100% False. There are different churches out there and they do things in different ways. I believe very strongly in inclusion and CoC has been moving in the direction of inclusion for sometime. I think that the LDS Church could move toward inclusion if it valued inclusion and if it wanted to.

      • Wondering Why says:

        I appreciate that is how you feel. However, it is not how I feel. Whilst I fully accept that there is truth in many places, there are fundamental differences just between the LDS and CoC – not least that one has temple ordinances. If temple ordinances are not required then the LDS church is wasting a lot of time and energy. However, if they are CoC members are not receiving vital ordinances.

        Inclusion, in almost every church/religion I can think of, appears to me as lowering expectations of members in terms of how they live the doctrines and creeds thereof.

        However, we are told in Abraham 3 (and I am sorry I don’t know if that is scripture in the CoC) that we are to be given physical life to see if we will do “all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them”. If that means accepting that women will not hold the priesthood, or that men have to accept the priesthood (not all men want it) then that is part of our being proved. Life isn’t always about being accepted, and feeling great. It is about understanding pain, emotion, suffering – so that we might understand their opposites.

        So for me inclusion is a way of bypassing stuff we have to deal with in order to become like God.

  8. Heather says:

    Women’s “exclusion is both important and meaningless.” This captures it precisely. Wow. Makes me sad.

  9. ElleK says:

    Congratulations, Nancy.

  10. Danna Myers Hook says:

    Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing. I could feel the joy and love through your writing! ❤️

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