Constant Communion

Written by Daron Brown
From his column Pressing On

A Renewed Mindset_articleOne of the core duties and sacred privileges of pastoral ministry is the administration of the sacraments. Christian history and our theological tradition offer us a high view of the sacraments of baptism and communion. When it comes to communion, in particular, the family of God has gathered frequently around the table for more than 2,000 years.

John Wesley was a proponent of “constant communion” because it offers “the forgiveness of our past sins and the present strengthening and refreshing of our souls.”[1] He understood communion to be a real means of grace in which Christ is present. For Wesley, communion channeled God’s prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace to the people of God. Because of this, he believed communion was appropriate and necessary at every stage of the Christian journey.

Many evangelical churches have downplayed the necessity of constant communion over the last few hundred years. In doing so, gathering at the table became less frequent. Reasons for this have included itinerate ministry whereby ministers were not regularly present to preside, the rise of the use of altars which became a focal point of worship, the desire of protestant groups to distance themselves from Roman Catholicism, the influence of the memorialist view of communion, and the notion that frequency somehow decreases significance. Whatever the reason or combination thereof, communion has become less frequently celebrated in many of our circles.

Simply put, Jesus meets His people with His grace at His table.

As a local church pastor, my historical and theological convictions have been to draw us to the table more often. My pastoral sensibilities, however, have prompted me to move in that direction slowly and deliberately. We came to the table monthly. Then we came weekly for seasons such as Advent and Lent. Then, in August of 2021, major flooding destroyed much of our community, including many homes, businesses, and church property. Twenty precious lives were lost. The crisis did not just happen and end; repercussions continue.

Pastoring a community after a major disaster has been the greatest challenge of my ministry journey. For the first two months, I felt incredibly inept. I could not say enough, do enough, or love enough. I was powerless to meet the overwhelming needs. Truth be told, I have always been powerless. I just became more aware when confronted with the magnitude of this crisis.

Two months after the disaster, I began bringing us to the table every Sunday morning. The decision was theologically and historically informed, but it was prayerful pastoral discernment that finally got us there. My people needed something I was powerless to give, and there is real power—Christ’s own presence—in the sacrament of communion. For people who deal with great need, I believe the best and most pastoral thing I can do is to open the table regularly. At the table, Christ is present and we encounter Him as in no other practice or moment in time. Simply put, Jesus meets His people with His grace at His table.

Some friends are skeptical because they believe frequency decreases significance. I believe familiarity need not breed contempt. There is no reason why familiarity should not precipitate greater intimacy. After all, communion is called “communion” for a reason.

There is much I have not figured out about the sacrament of communion. John Calvin called it a mystery that “is by nature incomprehensible. If anybody should ask me how this communion takes place, I am not ashamed to confess that that is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare. And to speak more plainly, I rather experience than understand it.”[2]

Like Calvin, I hardly understand it. But I know we need it often because we need the One who meets us there.

Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.

[1] John Wesley, Sermon 101, The Duty of Constant Communion, section I. 2, in The Sermons of John Wesley, 1872 ed.
[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, IV, 17, 32).