My First Communion
BY Hugh Hollowell
The pastor broke the bread, lifted the cup and from memory spoke the words of the Apostle Paul—
“The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took the bread…”
The pastor then faced the congregation and said that whosoever will, may come.
The aisle quickly filled as people slid out of their pews and got in line. Couples held hands as they stood together, patiently waiting their turn. A family was in front of us, two parents and three kids, the kids a little wired and restless. The line was moving slower than I am used to because the servers are offering a prayer for each person who receives the elements.
It happens just like that, more or less, in churches and congregations all over the world and has for almost two thousand years. But this time, the pastor was a black lesbian who wore a Roman collar. The liturgist was a gay man in his 50’s with dreadlocks. Nearly all the couples that held hands in the aisle were of the same sex. The family with the restless kids had two female parents. The man in line behind me wore a t-shirt bearing a pride flag.
I was in my first worship service in a gay affirming church. It was Pride weekend and my girlfriend and I, along with maybe two hundred other people, had came to listen to a straight pastor who had caught some flak from evangelicals over his affirming stance. After the sermon, we sang songs of oppression and liberation together, we hugged and pronounced peace to each other and now we stood in line, gay and straight, waiting to do what Christians do: Take the bread and drink the cup and do it in remembrance of Him.
Not knowing how this congregation handled the elements, I watched others receive. A couple approached the server and they each took the bread, dipped it into the cup and then put it in their mouths. They bowed their heads and held hands as the server prayed over them. I remember noticing how beautiful it was, and thinking I had never seen a heterosexual couple take communion together like that.
As we moved up the long line, thoughts raced through my head. For all my work for social justice and all my talk of the radical inclusion we have in Christ, for the first time I was celebrating the Eucharist with people who would be denied it by many churches. I was breaking bread with people that many in the Church viewed as beyond redemption or untouchable. I briefly wondered what my Evangelical friends would think if they knew I was here (“Is he Gay? Is he a liberal? I knew he was a liberal!”) I chuckled as it occurred to me that they might charge me with hanging out with sinners and wondered if they would catch the irony. It made me sad to know they thought there were people in this world who were beyond the love of Jesus.
It’s our turn. We step up to the server and the girlfriend takes my hand. Together we take the bread (“the body of Christ, broken for you”) and dip it in the cup (the blood of Christ, shed for you”) and eat. The server then bows his head and asks God to bless us and to help us continue to love each other as we face the future together.
After we return to our seat, I weep quietly and thank God for allowing me to see the diversity that is the Kingdom of God. I ask forgiveness for all the ways I have interfered with that Kingdom coming. I felt deeply loved. And why not? I had, after all, just experienced my first (real) Communion.
Hugh Hollowell is a writer, speaker and urban minister in Raleigh, NC. He is the founder of Love Wins Ministries, an organization that seeks to demonstrate the love of Jesus to all those society would leave behind.