This is such a great story. While I did not take it lightly as it occurred, I did not let it drag me down. This episode happened in early 2007. I did not feel comfortable posting the story then, due to my employment at the church. Now, we have all moved on so I feel as though I can write and share this story. I suppose that if I write each of these magnificent stories that occur in my ministry, I will have quite a collection by the time I retire!
In April, the pastor met with the Deacons as they do each month. The pastor was anticipating his upcoming vacation at the beginning of June, so he mentioned it to the Deacons. I would be preaching each of the 2 Sundays he would be away, one being the first Sunday — when Baptists traditionally serve Communion.
The Deacons did not offer much opposition to me being the one to serve Communion. The issue: I’m not ordained. Two Deacons did have a problem with me not being ordained, but did not discuss the issue to any great extent. The following Wednesday, myself still oblivious to this situation taking place, one of those Deacons confronted one of the church’s trustees in the hallway prior to the Wednesday night dinner. A crowd had gathered for dinner, and [Deacon A] started quite a show. When I asked the trustee later about the conversation, he said, “Aaron, you have just as high of a calling as anybody else in this church — deacon or no, ordained or not ordained. I don’t see any problem with you serving Communion, and I told [Deacon A] that exact thing.”
[Deacon A], it seemed, was in this for selfish reasons: if the Pastor, an ordained minister, is not present to serve Communion, [Deacon A] is the only other ordained minister in the church. He truly hoped for a church to minister in, but for numerous reasons, he had not had that opportunity recently. The story gets more interesting…
Apparently [Deacon A] called numerous people in the church beyond that first Trustee. He called and talked to the Pastor again and again. Yet he never mentioned the issue to me.
The Sunday before Communion Sunday, I walked into the Deacon’s Prayer Time before Sunday worship and Bible study. [Deacon A] informed the Deacons that he would be out of town for much of August, and needed to switch his duty as “Deacon of the Month” to June, the upcoming month. Deacon of the Month is on call for any special needs; greets people on the way out of the Sanctuary on Sunday morning; and prepares the elements of Communion. [Deacon A] was now responsible for preparing Communion the following Sunday.
On the way out of church that morning, [Deacon A] stopped and told me that he would prepare Communion for the following Sunday, but would not be in worship for “personal reasons.” Imagine my surprise the next Sunday morning before worship as I am reading through my sermon when I hear his voice from the back. Why the change of heart? I still do not know.
That morning, I changed the order of worship. Immediately following the sermon, we collected the offering. Five deacons came forward, but not [Deacon A]. But we need 6 to cover the entire Sanctuary. Another man in the congregation jumped up to assist. Following the offering, we moved into Communion. That man turned around to [Deacon A] because he knew a deacon should be assisting with Communion; he was ignored by [Deacon A]. Not only was I serving Communion, but so was an unordained man from the congregation!
We distributed the bread (the Body of Christ) to the deacons/servers who passed it throughout the congregation. When they returned to the front, this is what I said: On the night that Jesus ate with His disciples in the Upper Room, He welcomed them to that place by washing their feet, a sign of his servanthood. Just as Christ served others, may we now serve others. Offer your piece of bread to the person sitting next to you, saying, ‘This is Christ’s body, broken for you.’ Everyone in the congregation turned to their neighbor. A woman sitting behind [Deacon A] turned to him but was brushed off: [Deacon A] could not participate because he had not taken the bread!
The Chairman of the Deacons offered the prayer for the juice (the Blood of Christ) and the deacons distributed the juice around the Sanctuary. [Deacon A] took the juice. There is one of two possibilities: he was simply boycotting the bread because I had offered the prayer for that element (this is the most likely possibility; in fact, the truth, I believe); or he was so embarrassed by the first experience of not having bread to share that he now wanted to make sure he would not be embarrassed again.
[Deacon B] took a different approach. He remained quiet, yet opposed, and simply did not come to church that morning, saying he and his wife would be away visiting family that weekend. Although I didn’t agree with his perspective, I certainly respect him for how he handled the situation — quietly, to himself.
Baptists believe in the “priesthood of all believers,” which signifies the right of each and every person to pray and hear from God. It does not make sense, then, that only some people are eligible to serve. Ordination itself is a strange concept to me, but will be a part of my work in the church.
I left that church soon after, but this experience was not at all a part of my decision to leave. It was simply God’s call, and I had been sensing that nudging for close to a year.