The Sacrament/Communion, Ordination, and Belonging
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.