By Jeff Brumley
“The economy was real bad, tilting into the abyss, and I saw and felt this angst in people,” Aaron said.
Some of those in attendance were students from Wake Forest University School of Divinity, others were members of the church and workers from nearby offices.
“There were whites, blacks, homeless — many of whom did not belong to First Baptist Church,” Aaron said. “I wondered, what could help center them?”
The solution that occurred to Aaron was two-fold: make the service of prayer and preaching a weekly event and — most importantly, he says — add the Lord’s Supper to the mix.
“I’ve always had this thing about communion,” Aaron said.
‘A gift of grace’
And so has Christianity for much of its history, said Bill Leonard, a professor of Baptist studies and church history at Wake’s divinity school.
The Baptist practice of monthly or even quarterly communion is relatively recent, and the result of differences with restorationist churches, like Alexander Campbell’s Church of Christ, which observed communion every Sunday.
Many Baptists stayed away from the weekly celebration for another reason, Leonard said.
“It smacked of Catholicism and the Episcopalians and all of that,” said Leonard, who is a member of First Baptist.
But Leonard has been pushing the weekly communion idea with Baptists for years, not only because of its historic significance but because of its spiritual benefits.
The practice has a way of uniting and bonding members of a congregation and of ministry teams, he said.
“I’m a big believer in it,” he said. “I tell my students we ought to make communion available in our churches every Sunday at some point.”
If a congregation resists the idea, then offer it in the chapel every Sunday for those who want it, and for deacons and staff.
“It’s a gift of grace … uniting the body of Christ — particularly now when we have so many things that divide us,” Leonard said.
‘It’s united the congregation’
Adding the weekly Friday service has been “a renewing practice at our church.”
It’s been renewing for the surrounding community as well, Leonard and Aaron said.
The 45-minute noon Friday service began as an event primarily for Wake Divinity students during Lent. Now it’s held weekly, year-round. And it’s drawing more than the 10 or so divinity students who helped launch the service.
“People come from our church and from our community and from county offices,” Leonard said. “People come on their lunch hour.”
Attendance averages 75 to 100 and can reach as many as 150 on some Fridays. In addition to the homeless there also are some from nearby public housing communities.
The format includes prayer time, a brief message and music. Then participants line up to receive bread which they dip in the chalice.
The church also provides a free lunch for anyone who wants it — which they can eat onsite or take to go.
But it’s the spiritual food they receive that provides the most sustenance, said Leonard, who attends the service regularly.
“This is a way in which people are spiritually strengthened during the week. It also united the congregation.”
‘It’s the kingdom of God’
Aaron said he had a hunch that the Friday service could have that effect on his membership and on guests.
“The light bulb went off that this is a liturgical moment that could bring everyone together.”
Using the intinction method especially creates that sense of cohesiveness because it requires everyone, regardless of race, theology or economic status, to share from a common cup, he said.
Aaron said he was so moved by the experience that he used the service as his project to complete his doctor of ministry degree.
One aspect was to ask participants to compare the Friday communion experience with the more traditional Sunday morning ritual.
The results suggested that congregations utilizing the more formal — and less frequent — form of communion may want to consider making changes, Aaron said.
“Many of them talked about how they didn’t feel they were worthy to take communion [on Sundays] due to the formality of it,” he said. “Many of them said they hate to miss Friday now because of communion.”
The attraction the service has had on the surrounding community also suggests that communion can serve not only a liturgical function but an evangelistic one.
“I was intrigued at the number of persons who are willing to come here and claim me as their Friday pastor, but who don’t belong to our church,” Aaron said.
Communion in that less formal setting offers pastors an authentic way to live into their callings, and for lay people to live into theirs, Aaron said.
“To watch that line and to watch white and black, old and young, poor and rich dipping their hands [into the chalice] together — it’s the Kingdom of God,” Aaron said.