There’s a song that Rachael introduced me to back when we were in college. This was in my pre-Christian days when I was a pretty staunch atheist, and Rachael, the ever faithful evangelical, was trying to proselytize to me in any way she could. The song in question is extremely obscure, and apparently no one has bothered to put a version of it up on Youtube (I am disappoint), but I recall it being one of my first experiences with glimpsing the beauty of faith.
The song, which is titled “Church in the Field,” is a reminiscence of spending time outside enjoying the beauty of nature and comparing it to the rituals and features of a church service. For me, that image really resonated because I was going through a Romantic phase (in the literary sense) and considered the splendor of nature to be one of the strongest arguments for the existence of God. I also liked the song because it suggested that going to a building wasn’t a particularly important part of worship.
Keep in mind from my last post that I’m a little misanthropic at times, so the communal nature of faith didn’t appeal to me.
When I did eventually convert, the image of that song stuck with me, because it was all about interacting directly with God absent any other people to get in the way.
Boy, do people get in the way.
Anyhow, I bring all this up because of the thread of thought that Samantha Field brought up in her post “why do I still go to church?” about how sacraments are something that should be taken communally. Field, being a Protestant, observes only two sacraments: communion and baptism.
If I haven’t mentioned it previously, I have a history with baptism.
To keep things brief, I had a particularly negative experience with one church that Rachael and I tried where they hounded me for several weeks after I mentioned in trying to get more information about the church that I had not been baptized. The insistence that I get dunked at a church where I didn’t know anyone really irked me, and being the stubborn person that I am, I’ve stuck to that point; I don’t want to be baptized at a church where I haven’t gotten to know people in the community. This is why, ten years after my conversion, I’m still a heathen who is going to hell according to some people with whom I’ve had conversations.
Let’s set the baptism discussion aside now, because I actually fully agree with Field’s point about it being something best done in community; the act represents rebirth into a new life, and it should be shared and celebrated with loved ones.
Moving on to communion, things get a little more interesting. I love taking communion. It’s one of the few aspects of regular church attendance that I really miss. Perhaps because I went and memorized a passage from Matthew about the Last Supper when I was still a new Christian, the symbolism of taking bread and wine (or grape juice, because I’ve only ever attended Protestant services in the American South, and the only spirit we indulge around here is the Holy one) as a way of connecting with Christ always seemed special to me. I know that’s not so unusual; lots of people think communion is important. Still, it was a bit of solemnity that never seemed tainted by anything else that was going on at church.
Of course, I eventually realized that communion isn’t something that has to be done in a church building. It doesn’t really even have to be done at any kind of church service. See, when you strip away all the ceremony that we’ve attached to the sacrament over the years, communion is simply the act of taking a meal with other people. I do that at least twice a day (it would be three times, but breakfast is typically a do-it-yourself affair around here).
It’s pretty cool to think that I’m partaking in this sacrament so regularly, and it helps remind me that I’m supposed to be practicing love towards other people. I’ve needed that reminder a lot lately.
Going back to baptism now, Rachael and I had a conversation about this topic the other night. While we were mulling the whole church thing over, she said that she thought baptism was really like that moment when you’re getting to know someone and you realize that you’re going to be close friends. I thought it was pretty astute. This observation also made me realize that this sacrament gets carried out quite regularly outside of church. If baptism is rebirth into a new life, it’s also a welcoming into a new family, and that family grows every time we find ourselves making those friends that we know will be lifelong companions. They’re the people we always think to call up after a long week of work and ask to go get dinner and drinks and just enjoy each other’s company. They’re the ones we love to take communion with.
So yeah, church is okay, and the sacraments matter. What’s funny is that I’ve begun to realize that it’s not that hard to take the sacraments outside the church building and still be in community. You just have to be mindful of the opportunities when they present themselves.