The Day Before Thanksgiving: A Communion Experience

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Bible With Chalice

I’ve learned that I happen to serve at a church where the vast majority of our teenagers use every school holiday as an excuse to get out of small town Georgia, so now we don’t have Sunday Night Worship on the weeks of holiday breaks – except for one.

We always meet the week of Thanksgiving, and it is the highest attended Sunday of the year.

That’s because on the Sunday evening before Thanksgiving break, we all gather in the youth room for Communion. And I mean full-on-no-question-about-what-we’re-doing-Communion. All of the liturgy – from the Invitation to the Table to the Confession and Pardon to the Passing of the Peace to the Words of Institution to the Call and Response to the Sharing of the Bread and Cup to the Prayer After Communion. We do it all right in our youth room together working slowly allowing for questions so that we understand every tiny piece.

We explain where Wesley’s understanding of prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace can be found throughout the ritual. When the wording is difficult, we work through it so that everyone there understand them better. We have an altar moved into the room, and the women who bake our Communion bread for Sunday mornings bake us a fresh loaf as well. The youth actually ask me to wear my robe (my position at the church doubles as associate pastor as well as youth minister). The night is markedly different, and the teens really buy into it.

Why is this the highest attended Sunday of the year?

Families.

On this night, we invite all of the youth and their families to come and share in Communion together. We mail letters home inviting everyone in the house to come on this special occasion. Some teenagers walk in by themselves, but others come with their parents and younger siblings. There’s a look of pride on the faces of parents as their children ask questions and partake in the sacrament. The teenagers also have a look of appreciation on their own faces as their parents share in the meal with them.

It truly is a “Great Thanksgiving”.

So how can you adapt this for context? Here are some things that have to happen:

  1. Do it reverently. Go into it with the understanding that Communion is understood as a Holy Sacrament, one in which we tangibly experience the grace of God.
  2. Do it slowly. For some of your youth, this may be the only time all year that they share in Communion. For others it may be the first time ever. Explain the ritual’s importance and why the church has held on to it since the beginning. Don’t assume everyone knows what to do with the bread and the cup. It can be intimidating to new people. Take your time (for us, the whole thing takes 45 minutes to an hour).
  3. Do it by the book. Pay attention to your denominational requirements, in many places, the service has to be presided over by an ordained elder. If you are not an elder, then you cannot perform the ritual. This is not a negative!  This is a great opportunity to get your senior pastor involved with the youth group. Invite him or her to your worship space and let him or her share why Communion is personally important as well.

You can easily do this this year (even if you are reading this mid-November)! Put it on your calendar. Contact parents. Tell the youth. Recruit your senior pastor. Start off the holiday by giving thanks to God for the gift of grace through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Bill is an ordained Deacon in the South Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. He obtained a MDiv from Candler School of Theology with an emphasis on Biblical Interpretation and Religion in the Academy. He spends most of his time watching Netflix with his wife Lindsey and his daughter Arden. Bill currently serves as the Associate Pastor at Mulberry Street UMC in Macon, GA where the majority of his duties center on youth and intergenerational ministries and seeks to help people move from spiritual baby food to solid food.

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