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Tuesday, November 11, 1997

Pastor wants communion for all

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church welcomes the baptized and unbaptized, Buddhist and Baha'i at the communion table, and they want the rest of their denomination to do so, too.

Tonight they are proposing a change in the church's constitution that would permit anyone to take communion. Like most Christian denominations, the Presbyterian Church (USA) limits the ritual - which recreates Jesus' meal the night before his crucifixion - to baptized believers.

"It's not in keeping with the table manners of Jesus, who sat and ate with anyone," said the Rev. Harold Porter, pastor of Mount Auburn. "It's very inhospitable to have a meal with the doors wide open to all, and then in the course of it set aside this meal and say, 'If you don't believe, you'll have to watch while we eat this.'"

The ritual of eating bread and drinking wine or juice is the central act of Christian worship, but it represents different things in different Christian traditions. Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and Lutherans believe Jesus is present in the consecrated bread and wine, while other Protestants believe Jesus is present in the community, and the bread and wine are symbols of body and blood.

Those who disagree with Mount Auburn's proposal say communion requires belief, a point supported by a passage in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians: "For anyone who eats and drinks is eating and drinking his own damnation if he does not recognize the Body."

The Rev. Stephen Eyre, associate pastor of College Hill Presbyterian Church, is among those who believe in a more traditional communion.

"The Lord's Supper is not our rite of initiation," he said. "I appreciate very much their hospitality and outreach, but I don't think this is the best way to go about achieving their ends."

In the last few decades, the concept of communion - also known as the Eucharist or the Lord's Supper - has evolved in several denominations. In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, for instance, the average age of first communion has dropped from eighth or ninth grade to fifth grade and younger.

The Mount Auburn pastor's congregation first proposed the change in 1989, when it was defeated. If tonight's proposal passes, it will go to the national church's assembly this summer. He and his congregation believe it is an effective way of evangelizing.

"Even if a (non-baptized) person takes communion and nothing happens," the pastor said, "they leave the service feeling they found an extension of God's love in that place."

©Copyright 1997, The Cincinnati Enquirer

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