Consecrating the Communion

Author: 
Kat Liu

Introduction:

Please don't let the word "communion" put you off.  I'm not proposing that we be serving the blood and body of Christ in our UU congregations.  (Tho obviously if your congregation wants to do that, that's fine too.)  I'm using the word "communion" because it has the same etymological root as to commune.  Or in community.  In other words, the ritual of communion serves to reinforce a sense of shared identity.  We repeat this ritual together, mindfully recognizing that by taking part we affirm ourselves as part of UU community with each other.

But how would UUs consecrate communion?  As congregationalists, we reject spiritual hierarchy.  Even if we have ministers, we don't think of them as being "more holy" or "closer to god(s)", and many of our congregations do not have ministers.  (And many UUs don't believe in god(s).)  Yet the act of consecration is important.  It's what separates communion from, well, just sharing food. 

The answer that I am proposing came from a combination of two things. The first is one of the few genuine rituals that we UUs have and practice, the laying on of hands when we're ordaining a new minister.  I was struck by the symbolism of the new minister standing in the center of their community, with everyone else laying their hand on the minister or on the person in front of them such that everyone is ultimately connected to the minister, conferring *their* blessing.  In UUism, the community blesses the minister, not the other way around.  Thus, our community can bless the communion too. The second is an ancient practice among many different cultures, the presenting of offerings to our ancestors (and/or gods).  In some cultures, everything that is eaten is first offered to the ancestors (and/or gods) and in other cultures this is only done on special occasions.  You might or might not believe that our ancestors are still with us - that is up to each person to interpret.  Regardless, the act of invoking our ancestors - both biological and spiritual - reminds us of who we are now and what we stand for. 


The Ritual:

The actual ritual is very simple.  Invite those participating to place icons representing the ancestor they've chosen to invite/acknowledge on the raised area of the communion table(s).  Also, to place the food they've brought for the communion meal on the table, in front of the ancestors. 

When the table(s) is ready, invite folks to gather round the table, leaving room for whoever is leading communion to move.  Those who are closest to the table each place one hand above or on the table; those behind them each place one hand on the person in front of them. The communion leader makes a plate of food, taking a sampling of what has been offered by the community.  Place the plate, now with food, back in its location, next to the cup of water and the receptacle.

The communion leader lights the chalice while saying:

We know that we are not self-sufficient.  This food that we eat, the clothes we wear, we owe to the work of others. 
We know that we are not self-actualized.  All of what we do, and fail to do, impacts those who come after us. 
We know that we are not self-made. All that we are, who we are, we owe to those who have come before us. 

Participants each murmur the names of the ancestors they brought with them today, as well as whomever else they wish to acknowledge.  (Participants can now remove their hands.)

[Insert seasonal ritual here, if any.]

The commuion leader then pours some of the libation (water) from the offering cup into the receptacle, while saying:

To our ancestors, of blood and of spirit, named and unnamed, we offer our thanks. 
May our gifts of these foods and dink be pleasing and nourishing. 
May our actions as we walk this world be worthy of your memory. 

Commence with the potlucking! (Leave the offering plate in place for the duration of the meal.)


Preparations:

You will need:

  • a communion table (or tables), large enough to hold icon representing the ancestors (and/or deities), plus the food and libations. 
  • a table cloth (or cloths) to make the communion table looke nice. 
  • boxes or something to raise the icons higher than the food.  If the table is against a wall, the raised area should be against the wall too, towards the back of the table, with the food placed at the front.  If the table is in the center of the room, then the raised area should be in the center of the table with the food placed at the edges. 
  • serving utensils
  • a plate and cup for the offering, and a receptacle (cup or bowl) into which to pour the libation.  These items should be placed on the table at the front of the center, easily accessible to whomever is leading communion.  Fill the cup with water but leave the plate empty until the ritual starts.
  • a chalice (don't forget the matches).

Ask participants to bring an icon representing one of their ancestors.  The ancestor can be biological or spiritual.  They could be a grandparent or a mentor who has since passed.  Or they could be a spiritual leader or deity of personal significance.  The icon can be a photo or some other memento that reminds/represents the ancestor.  This is one of the ways in which we're making room for expression of the diversity that is in our communities.  So (unless someone is bringing a picture of Hitler or the like) there should be no judgements as to who is a valid "ancestor."  The only restriction: do not bring photos or other representations of people who are still alive.

Also, ask participants to bring food for the potluck.  Ideally, the dish would be made with seasonally available ingredients and/or relevant to the culture from which the participant comes.  Here again, is an opportunity for expression of the diversity that exists within our communities. 

Ask participants to bring their own reusable cups, plates, and cutlery.  Reuseable plastic dishes are lightweight and can be used in subsequent communions. I know that this is a tall order to ask of folks, both to buy these items and remember to bring them.  But we are making a commitment as a people towards more sustainable practices.  Invite folks to think of these items as their communion plates, cups, etc.

You should also have extra plates, cups, cutlery on hand for folks who forget to bring their own, as we don't want to bar folks from participating simply because they forgot.  However, some kind of nominal fee should be charged as an incentive to remember to bring these items next time. 

Clean up should be relatively straight-forward if participants take their serving dishes and their personal communion dishes back home with them.  The food that was on the offering plate should be composted, if at all possible.

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