Communion at Ardmore Presbyterian
The first communion service of this congregation was held on January 5, 1908.
The early history of our communion observances reflects the theology and customs of the Presbyterian church of the time. Although the Reformer John Calvin advocated weekly communion, fellow Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli favored a quarterly observance, and this became the norm for the all reformed churches, including the Presbyterian Church in Scotland . This practice was carried over to the American church, and adopted as the practice when our church was founded.
During our early history, Communion was observed four times a year, on the first Sunday in January, April, June and October. By the 1920s, the April date was replaced by a communion on Easter Sunday. The Easter communion was observed not during the morning service, but at a second service held at 4 pm. In 1943 the Easter communion was moved to an evening service on Maundy Thursday, a practice that we continue today. In 1950, a communion service was added on Good Friday evening. Our October communion continued throughout the years, but became known as World Communion, an observance begun by our own denomination in 1936 and now shared by many denominations world-wide.
Although held only four times a year, the sacrament of communion was given great significance. On each Friday before communion, a special preparatory service was held. This worship service was intended to prepare members to receive communion, being mindful of Paul’s admonition in 1st Corinthians to receive communion in a worthy, or faithful way. Preparatory services continued at our church through the 1960s.
More recently, as Presbyterians have become more comfortable with the ancient church calendar, communion services have also been scheduled to commemorate special Sundays in the church season, such as the first Sunday of Advent, Pentecost, and today, the first Sunday of Lent. This year, communion will be observed eight times at our church, five of those on Sunday mornings.
Our communion has always been open to all baptized believers, regardless of denominational affiliation. However, it was limited to adults until the 1980s, when changes in the Book of Order allowed children to receive communion with the consent of their parents, and proper instruction from the Session.
Consistent with our Presbyterian theology, the elders of our church have always served communion, although in the past they had a somewhat more formal appearance. Through the 1940s Elders served communion wearing formal attire, with cutaway coats. In the 1960s women were first ordained as Elders, and joined in serving communion.
In our denomination the manner in which communion is served is left up to the Session of each church. The Session may determine, for example, whether the bread used is yeast bread or unleven, and whether the wine served is in a common cup or in individual cups. At our church, the manner in which communion is served has changed very little over the years. A churchgoer from 1908 would recognize much of what we will do this morning, as we have maintained many of the traditional elements of the service. While tradition can be helpful, we would do a disservice to our spiritual forbearers if we followed these traditions blindly, without considering some of their meaning.
Here are just a few observations:
The Lord’s Supper, the bread and wine, sit on the communion table in the front of the church; around them sit the ministers and elders. When the church was designed, there were 8 elders and 1 minister, hence there are 9 ceremonial chairs. The elders do not sit in front as VIPs or as honored officials, but as your servants, representing you at the table.
Presbyterian theology stresses the equality of all believers and their common access to God’s grace. Christ invites all of you to sit at his table, and if it were large enough, we would have you all up there. As it is not, the elders sit there on your behalf, and bring the elements to you where you sit.
And speaking of sitting, why is it that we sit to receive communion? Some have suggested it’s because Presbyterians are too lazy to get up and too proud to kneel. But the real reason we sit, is that we are sitting with Christ at his table. As you sit in your pew and share the elements with those around you, you sit at Christ’s extended table, experiencing the unity that Christ gives us through our common faith in him.
Our theology teaches us that communion is not only a commemoration of Christ’s death. It is a sign and seal confirming our faith, during which Christ is present in a special way, giving us spiritual nourishment. It is our hope that our traditions, however imperfect, will help each of us in experiencing this spiritual significance of the sacrament.