Refusing Communion

Sometimes it takes walking away to feel the hunger that keeps us at the table
June 25, 2007

I can't say for sure, but I think I understand a little how the bishops who refused to take communion at the Primates' Meeting in Tanzania might be feeling. I think I know, because I did the exact same thing when I encountered my first gay priest.

A cradle Episcopalian, I grew up in the small congregation where I got to try everything. I was an acolyte. I sang, played the flute and danced in liturgies. I taught Sunday school, led the youth group, even preached!

My favorite time of the service was communion. Our family sat towards the front, and I would come back from communion and kneel. I loved watching everyone go forward, receive and come back. I always wondered what brought such a motley collection of people together.

When I went off to college, I sought out the local Episcopal Church (I wasn't much of a rebel). A parishioner picked me up every Sunday, along with a few other students and some elderly ladies.

Towards the end of my first year, another student told me that our priest was leaving and that he and his partner were moving to San Francisco. I didn't say a thing; I was too surprised. But my mind started churning. Gay?!? I thought being gay was wrong. In fact, I couldn't remember anyone ever saying anything ... but that's what I thought the Bible said.

The next Sunday I skipped church, which was very unusual for me. The following Sunday I went to church, but I decided I would not take communion. I sat at the back and watched everyone go forward, old and young, college types and town folks, people I hardly knew but loved.

Suddenly, I felt completely and utterly alone. I felt empty, cut off. I was desperately hungry, but I was still sitting in my pew. I had taken communion every Sunday since I could remember, and on the day I refused to come forward I finally knew, deep down, what communion really meant.

My views on homosexuality didn't change overnight, but I went back to church and back to communion because I knew that was where I needed to be. Later, I learned more about the Bible and about homosexuality; I met gay men and lesbian women whom I grew to love and respect.

But those things didn't convert me; the Eucharist did. When I turned away from the body and blood of Christ, the love of God, the witness of the Christians around me and my deep hunger brought me back into Communion, back to the food and drink of never-ending life in Christ.

So I'm not so shocked that some bishops refused communion with our presiding bishop, and I'm not sorry they did. Sometimes it takes cutting ourselves off to realize our deepest hunger.

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