Dear Friends:


In the latest issue of Friends' Journal there is an article, featured on the cover, called 'Quaker Communion' by Bruce Neumann.  The author writes, 'for many years, I harbored a rather untypical Quaker longing.  Occasional oblique comments to other Friends didn't seem to engender interest, so I held the longing to myself . . . the longing was to share communion with a small group of other Quakers, after the fashion of Friends.'


Eventually the author, through connections with the School of the Spirit, and other Friends, was able to find a small number of Friends who felt similarly drawn to Quaker Communion.


I was uplifted and delighted by this simple article because I have had such a leading myself.  Beginning late in 2011, I began to feel a strong attraction to the idea of taking Communion.  But I didn't want to do it in a way that is dependent on a priesthood.  I wanted to do it in the manner of Quakers.  But that is the difficulty as Quakers are noted for not taking communion.


What to do?


I decided to begin taking communion on my own.  I integrated a very simple commnion service into my morning prayers.  I read the passage from 1 Corinthians relevant to communion, partake of bread and grape juice, and conclude with the Lord's Prayer.


I have found taking communion on a daily basis, as part of my overall morning prayers, to be richly rewarding.  Still, I hoped to finding other Quakers who have a similar leading.  And that is why I found the article in Friends' Journal so encouraging. 


I brought the article to the attention of my Meeting and reactions covered a wide range; all the way from not liking the idea at all to finding the idea of a simple Quaker Communion Service to be something attractive.  It didn't surprise me that there would be this range of reaction.  I was only pleased to discover that there are others who find the idea possibly efficacious.


So I would like to recommend the article to Quakers in general.  I think it is thoughtful and opens up a possibility for Quaker Faith and Practice which, I think, is a new direction.  By 'new direction' I mean new for unprogrammed Quakers.  It's not new for Christianity.  And here I would like to close by pointing out that Quakers thought of themselves as 'primitive Christianity revived.'  And there is a lot of truth to that view.  But in some ways I think Quakers may have, at times, thrown the baby out with the bathwater.  There is a lot of evidence for communion going all the way back to the very earliest Christian communities.  Paul notes communion service in 1 Corinthians (about 50 AD) and says he had received this service from others.  Communion is noted in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  It is also noted in the 'Didache', a very early non-canonical work which appears to have been one of the first, perhaps the first, manual for those entering the nascent Church.  I am suggesting that communion is part of 'primitive Christianity' and that practicing communion can assist in connecting with that era.


Thy Friend Jim


Views: 1940

Comment by Caroline Gulian on 2nd mo. 17, 2012 at 9:53pm

If you wish to consider group Holy Communion before or after Meeting for Worship, I'm sure this might be of interest to some.  I would not suggest trying to incorporate it into unprogrammed meetings as they are unprogrammed for a reason. 

Comment by Tom Smith on 2nd mo. 17, 2012 at 9:56pm

I wonder if the following might be applied  to the concept of Quaker communion. I recalled this from an earlier comment by Jim Wilson.

"My sense is that when Quakers abandon modes of dress, modes of speech, etc., they become indistinguishable from the culture at large and are no longer a vehicle for a specific message and way of life"

Comment by Bill Samuel on 2nd mo. 18, 2012 at 8:40am

I was part of a little Quaker group for years that practiced occasional communion with the cup and the bread. We got the blessing of the Monthly Meeting a number of us then were members of to do that, and even to do that in the meeting room, where our little Christian Friends group sometimes met. We particularly did this on Maunday Thursday as part of a Lenten series we held each year for several years. To partake in communion with a group in a service which has much time in silence, with openness to vocal ministry, I found very powerful.

I think where early Friends had it right was in rejecting the outward form as what was really important and efficacious. The experiment in worshipping without any of the traditional forms pointed out that it was the inward, not the outward, which was of key importance, a point Jesus is recorded having made on several occasions.

However, this does not mean, as Quakers (at least some of them) seem to have assumed, that there is anything inherently wrong with the outward forms. There are good reasons why most of the Christian church from the very beginning until now has practiced communion with the bread and the cup. To me, it relates closely to God's decision not to be just a spiritual being but to come in the Incarnation to live and dwell with us as a physical being. If we truly accept the Incarnation, how can we reject communion with the bread and the cup? It is to me a way Christ is able to be with us physically even now, long after the Ascension. With the right spiritual frame of mind, that can be a powerful experience. And to do it in a context of waiting worship seems particularly appropriate.

Comment by Tom Smith on 2nd mo. 18, 2012 at 9:02am

I agree with Bill Samuel in that most, almost all, of the Christian church has used the communion form and that there is nothing "wrong" with that usage given the spiritual understanding. However, I do have a concern with Friends losing their "distinctiveness" by accepting a "form" of communion. I believe one of the essential understandings as to why there was no form of communion among Friends was the desire to emphasis the presence of Christ in ALL matters and "offices." I learned as a child in a "programed" Friends minister's home that the silence before meals was in remembrance of Christ to remind us that Christ was present (not consubstantiation or transsubstantiation, or an extra plate and chair) but we did need to remind ourselves of that presence in all of our daily activities, with eating and drinking being absolutely necessary to carrying out these activities just as Christ was necessary in all of our activities.

If "we" accept "special" times or "forms" for this remembrance, then I believe we lose not just the distinctiveness of Friends but "primitive Christianity" in which the presence of Christ was known and experienced as Christ walked and talked (and ate) with followers. It is this that the early Friends were sharing and any special "form" seemed not only as inadequate and unnecessary, but probably as an hindrance to the 24/7 experience.  

Comment by Allistair Lomax on 2nd mo. 18, 2012 at 10:02am

There are sound issues of faith behind why Quakers do not practice an outward 'communion'. Echoing Tom Smith's comment, I hope that those Friends who advocate an introduction of this form of ritual into Quaker  worship will first furnish themselves with a thorough understanding of those issues. Rodney Pharris did an excellent blog on this very issue, here on QuakerQuaker, last year. I'd recommend it.

The issue is not whether not some form of ritual would be 'good for us' or 'good for me', but it is always whether Christ is actually present and active in the midst of gathered people and how ready and willing we are receive him and his teaching. If he is truly present, his presence is sufficient for us.

Comment by Jim Wilson on 2nd mo. 18, 2012 at 10:54am

Thanks, Friends, for your kind comments. 


Tom, I am aware of the contradiction you point out.  It was one of the reasons that I resisted communion; because of my sense that it runs against Quaker tradition.  Yet the idea kept returning to me, nagging at me.  To be honest, I at first found the idea embarassing, but then leadings sometimes do that.


I was not raised in a Christian household so this leading wasn't a reversion to some kind of church based experience I had in the past.  The truth is, when I first felt this draw to communion I didn't even know how to go about it.  I went online searching for information.  What I found was so thickly buried in theological issues and agitated discussions about what exactly to do, and the necessity for a priestly presence, and the need for extensive examination, that I felt repulsed.  I put the idea aside because I didn't want to enter into centuries of bickering over what communion means, how to do it, its 'ontological' status, etc., ad nauseum.


From this perspective I think the early Quakers got it exactly right.  Reformation churches were (and still are) having bitter discussions over communion and this kind of abstract discussions had sucked the meaning out of communion completely.  It had become an empty form.  I get it, and I admire the early Quakers' courage in rejecting the outward form altogether.


Yet, we live in a different world today.  Early Quakers felt strongly drawn to follow the Gospel in matters like not bearing arms, not taking oaths, turning the other cheek, loving one's enemies.  But the Gospel also says 'do this in remembrance of me'.  The request is simple and in the Gospels themselves void of the deadening hand of theological extrapolation.  If we as Quakers are called upon to follow Christ's example in refusing to take oaths, in loving one's enemies, then why not 'do this in remembrance of me'?


In closing I want to make an observation about the teaching that the presence of Christ is available at all times and in all situations.  The implication is that therefore a specific communion ritual isn't necessary and, it may be, that a specific ritual actually deflects the realization of His constant presence in all situations.  I actually believe that.  The trouble is I am not able to actualize that ideal in my daily life.  I work full time and I have other obligations in my life.  In the day-to-day activity I often forget this presence, instead I get frustrated, angry, self-centered, etc.  Nothing dramatic, but just enough to lose my connection to the presence.  Going to Meeting on First Day is a ritual that refreshes and reminds me of that presence.  And I have found communion done at home to also hold that same capacity for reconnecting with the presence.


Again, thanks for the thoughtful posts.

Comment by Roger Dreisbach-Williams on 2nd mo. 18, 2012 at 11:05am

G Fox argued from Scripture that communion, as practiced in the churches of his day, was not original to the faith.  Yet it survives - as do Christmas and Easter - and rends faith communities who struggle over how often to do it and that particulars of what to share and how to share it. [some of my friends who practice communion are a bit jealous of Quakers because we don't have these issues]

In my own faith struggles I have come to understand that the bread/body of Christ is Truth Beyond Reason, and that the breaking and sharing is a vital reminder that each of us has a piece, but not the whole; and that cup/blood of Christ is Love Beyond Understanding and that all must drink from the common vessel, reminding us of the unity that we have in Christ.

OK - so now we do communion in Quaker Worship.  Someone has to bring and begin breaking the bread and someone has to bring and start sharing the cup, and now we are no longer gathered at the foot of the Cross/at the Table of Heaven, we are in the shadow rather than the substance.

Quaker Communion is the gathering in Truth and Love under the Cloud of Presence:   the Stillness and Warm Love of gathered worship, the gentle laughter and lively conversation over light refreshments that follow the sitting together in waiting worship.

Comment by Elin Hagberg on 2nd mo. 18, 2012 at 1:22pm

I call myself a Christian, a Quaker-inspired Christian but I belong to liberal Evangelical-Lutheran Church and have my primary spiritual home in this congregation. I have issues with communion but it is still something that impacts me deeply. I love singing the preparation hymns which often speak of things that are close to me. That god provides our bread and wine, the basics in life, that we can and should share this, that we as Christians sit at the same table and eat the same bread and drink the same wine and that Christ is present at this table (as always as I see it but the communion helps me to see this). I am not strong enough to see this every time I sit down at a table and the communion helps me to see this more clearly. Unlike most in my congregation however, I do not believe that anything 'mystical' happens during communion, to me it is important for the above reasons and because communion is in the bible and part of the example of Christ. I also do not believe there is a need for a priest to celebrate communion or that communion should only be taken by those who are baptized or in the process of baptism as my church teaches, I believe one only needs to have a need to join in such an act to be elegable to join.

Giving up communion as a cermony is one of the reasons I do not at present want to be a 'real' Quaker.

Comment by James C Schultz on 2nd mo. 18, 2012 at 1:30pm

I would suggest that if you are having a leading towards a "communion" service of some kind that you do some real praying and listening to determine what the Spirit is trying to say to you.  God speaks to all of us but we tend to hear him differently depending on our personal and family experiences.  I doubt very much that the act of communion is what God is trying to get you to incorporate into your life, although he might want you to establish a more intimate relationship with certain people within the community.  In the book "three cups of tea" the author speaks of a custom which denotes a special relationship between host and guest.  Communion could be interpreted in a similar vein as establishing a special relationship between participants.  The first time I experienced the Spirit leading me to minister orally it was to encourage those in attendance to make a commitment or covenant to at least one other person and to love that person as yourself.  If you look at the "last supper" Jesus was laying down his life for all of us and encouraging (do this in memory of me) His disciples to do the same.  Once again, I urge you to look to what God is calling you to in the spirit and not just in practice.  Once you get the revelation of what it is God is calling you to it will change your life.  Maybe you will get it during one of your "communion" experiences, but God is leading you so keep asking and he will reveal more to you as time goes by.   Don't forget the concept of breaking bread either.  As a disclaimer I have to say that I was raised a Roman Catholic, attended Catholic elementary and high schools and belonged to a Catholic fraternity in College.  I am no stranger to the Catholic teachings on communion.  I have also participated in "Agape" meals and communion services of one kind or another in evangelical and pentacostal churches.  I could go on and on about communion services but I think enought has been said for now.  God bless.

Comment by Padraic Murray on 2nd mo. 18, 2012 at 5:54pm

As someone who practised happily as Roman Catholic for many years I have a certain perspective. For me, the cup of tea after the Sunday Meeting for worship is as important as the meeting itself. We can, and hopefully do, pray alone during the week and Sunday is a time for common worship and communion with a small 'c'. I still happily attend Mass occasionally with my aging mother and Chruch of Ireland services when invited and respect their piety. It just strikes me that perhaps the last supper has become an Ikon, something beyond what Jesus had in mind. In fact it strikes me that Jesus is unlikely to have foreseen the rise in clericalism for which he is called the author. Every meal we have with others could and should be a moment of encounter - whether with Freinds or not.


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