What does the breaking apart of bread have to do with the unity of the United Church of Christ—and the unity of the whole Body of Christ of which we are only one small part?
The Tabernacle at the Craigville Conference Center—site for the annual Colloquy. Andy Lang photo | Randy Varcho graphic
"Christian Solidarity in a Fragmented World" was the theme of the 20th Craigville Colloquy, a significant UCC theological conversation that is held every July at the Craigville Conference Center on the shores of Cape Cod.
The UCC—like any other Christian community—is a fragmented church living in a fragmented world. Fragmentation reminds us of physical and emotional death, and "falling apart" is not a state anyone would willingly embrace.
But fragmentation also is a step towards wholeness, said the Rev. Mark Burrows of UCC-related Andover- Newton Theological School and a Colloquy presenter.
"Every meal is a necessary fragmentation," Burrows said. "We come to this table as persons broken and hungry—at least, this meal is an occasion to remember that Jesus welcomes to his table the outcasts, the morally unfit, the weak and 'ungodly' (Rom 5:6)."
"If we are to find any authentic solidarity around this table, it will be the communion of the broken who are yearning to be healed," he said.
Communion binds Christians not only with each other, but with a broken world, Burrows said. "Sacraments are the means by which God's promise becomes visible not only for the individual and within the church, but in and for the wider world.
"For this reason, Calvin advocates frequent—and he preferred this to be weekly—celebration of 'the Supper.' This was not only a nourishment we needed to strengthen our faith, but a visible representation of the divine promises which come to us, he argued, 'more clearly through the sacred Supper' than through the preaching of the Gospel. It is the physical enactment of this meal that is, for Calvin, so crucial. The bread and the cup is nothing else than a participation in the body and blood, in the life and death, of Christ. It is God's solidarity with us."
Holy Communion—like the united churches that are bound together by the sacrament—is a counter-cultural corrective to the spirit of post-modernism, said the Rev. Thomas Best, a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister and program executive of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches in Geneva.
"Post-modernism has far-reaching implications culturally," he said. "The emphasis on each subject as perceiving his or her 'own' reality, together with the rejection of overarching explanations of the world, favors individualism rather than commitment to a higher or more inclusive social context. The result is that persons and groups are increasingly reluctant to recognize, much less commit themselves to, institutions beyond their own 'horizon.'"
In practical terms, Best said, this leads Christians in the West to see the church only as the community gathered locally—the local congregation. He said a "united church" in a postmodern culture is, therefore, for many of its members not an integrated whole but merely the sum of its parts.
But at their best, "church unions part company with post-modernism. Post-modernism is content with pluralism — the acceptance of diverse views alongside each other, with no need to integrate or reconcile them," Best said. "By contrast, the special calling of church unions is to offer a sign of integration and reconciliation to the world."
"There have to be things that bind us together," said the Rev. Paul Crowe, former ecumenical officer of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), during a panel discussion at the end of the five-day conference. "There have to be signs of community. There have to be ways we as churches can not only come together but also face the world together. Most ecumenical models are saying structures are not the issue, but what binds us together is the Eucharistic table."
The Craigville Colloquy, sponsored by the Massachusetts Conference's Commission for Leadership Development and the Craigville Colloquy Committee, will convene its 21st anniversary event in July 2004. The Rev. John Thomas, UCC General Minister and President, will be the keynote speaker.
Andy Lang is the UCC's web manager.