Practicing real hospitality in the midst of extreme differences can be hard. What does it mean to make another person feel truly welcome when their needs are seemingly at odds with yours? This question drives the ethos of the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference. How can we welcome all who want to be present, inviting each and every person to be challenged by God’s radical and unrelenting hospitality while simultaneously creating a safe space for all to feel loved and accepted? It is a high call. And as conference veterans, it’s a call we embrace as a part of our own call to hospitality.
One of the hardest places to practice real hospitality is the Communion table. Real hospitality requires that people consider the needs, desires, and convictions of others, taking special notice of irreconcilable matters of conscience. Various Christian traditions have developed diverse views of what happens during Communion, who can partake of Communion, and what Communion means. Moreover, each individual Christian is always encouraged to examine their conscience before taking Communion in order to decide how they want to respond when a particular opportunity to receive is available. There are so many reasons why a person would make a choice to abstain from receiving Communion. The choice to receive Communion can only be a free choice if the choice to abstain is also available.
Towards that end, the two of us have sought to create an option for GCN Conference attendees where people who come to the worship service that takes place during the closing session have the option to receive something other than blessed Eucharistic elements. This is the Bread of Fellowship. We started this tradition at GCN Conference 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona as a way to help conference attendees from closed-communion denominations, non-Christian attendees, and others who are not comfortable receiving Communion to feel more welcome. But this is not a tradition we made up on our own: we got the idea from the Eastern Christian practice of setting aside a basket of unconsecrated bread that can be shared by any or all in attendance at the liturgy. This unconsecrated bread is called antidoron. In Eastern Christian practice, the bread that is consecrated is cut from a larger loaf. The unconsecrated leftovers from this larger loaf become the antidoron, which is often linked to the Gospel stories where Christ feeds the multitude and the disciples fill baskets with what is remaining. We loved the idea of the Bread of Fellowship being something that could feed all, even when matters of conscience prevented people from receiving Communion.
At this year’s GCN Conference in Houston, the Bread of Fellowship was offered and blessed with the following prayer:
Living God, source of light,hope of nations, friend of all,builder of the city that is to come:your love is made visible in Jesus Christ,you bring home the lost, heal the broken,and give dignity to the despised.You gather us together, feeding and nourishing us.In the face of Jesus Christwe see your light shining out,flooding lives with goodness and truth,gathering into one a divided and broken humanity,with people from every race and nation,with the Church of all the ages.Bless this bread, and unite us in fellowship.Strengthen and preserve us in community with one another.May all find welcome at this Table of Fellowship.
It is our prayer that God continues to bless everyone who has ever gathered at a Gay Christian Network and guides each and every person where they can hear the heartfelt words of, “You are welcome at this table of fellowship.”
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