In 1933, in the wake of global unrest and early years of the Great Depression, a Presbyterian Congregation in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania started a new tradition, World Communion Sunday.
World Communion Sunday grew out of the Division of Stewardship at Shadyside [Presbyterian Church]. It was their attempt to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.
By the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the US, a predecessor denomination to the PCUSA, in 1936 the tradition had started to catch on with other congregations and became adopted by the PCUS. Finally, in 1940, the predecessor organization to the National Council of Churches adopted the day, and it became widely recognized by many other denominations and in some other countries.
Outside of days like Easter, Pentecost and so on, World Communion Sunday is my favorite because it reminds us of our place within the greater faith. It also reminds us that we are not alone. Sadly, over the past 30 years Christendom has been attacked from within (much like it was in the early 1900’s) with a focus on individualism and autonomy.
We see this in the “non-denominational” movements most pronounced, but we also see it in the independence movement within denominations like ours. In fact, one of the big “advantages” that the proponents of leaving the PCUSA have is that the new denomination will give the congregations more freedom and independence. I won’t get into why this is a flawed reasoning in this letter, and it is, but when I sat in a discussion with other clergy wishing to leave this was a big point.
If there is something that I have learned, it is that the more inwardly-focused people, churches, communities, even countries are, the more isolated they become. Moreover, in the case of churches, often the more independent they are the more they struggle in the long run over issues that effect most congregations. This is seen most where Christianity meets Culture.
When I say this, I am really talking far more than the “hot button” issues that people love to debate. I am hitting on the questions that are more inline with, “why it is so difficult to see congregations grow?” I will give you an insight; 99% of Presbyterian Congregations are asking that one. The sad thing is that often because they don’t work with other congregations, they reach out and try gimmicks or things that, while successful in the short term, have been proven not to work over time.
The truth today, as it was in the 1930’s, is that World Communion Sunday is about recognizing that we are not only part of the global witness of Christ, but we need each other to propagate the message of Christ. Moreover, we need to hold ourselves and other congregations accountable to how we serve and follow Christ.
In the traditional service, we will be including some traditions that come from the Cameroonian community among others, as well as other breads from around the world! In the Gathering we will explore some of the gifts found in the Spanish-speaking communities. And in both services we will be collecting for the peacemaking offering, an expression of how we are called to care for each other both within and without the church to bring peace and heaven on earth.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen