Hundreds of churches across the country will attempt to focus on a more important commitment, as millions of Americans cast their votes next Tuesday.
While ballots are being counted and pundits jump to conclusions, Christians across the denominational spectrum will gather for communion.
An initiative known as Election Day Communion urges churches to hold a special service to help Christians focus on where one’s true allegiance lies.
The services are also designed to help people come together in unity as the body of Christ despite political differences.
“Election Day Communion began in 2012 with a concern that Christians in the United States are being shaped more by the tactics and ideologies of political parties than by their identity in and allegiance to Jesus,” the initiative’s website explained. “Out of this concern, a simple vision sparked the imaginations of several Mennonite pastors: The Church being the Church on Election Day, gathering at the Lord’s Table to remember, to practice, to give thanks for and to proclaim its allegiance to Christ.”
Several Baptist churches are among those listed as planning to participate next week.
Garrett Vickrey, senior pastor of Woodland Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, noted “communion unites God’s people.” Thus, his church, which serves as a polling site, will hold a communion service just as the polls close at 7 p.m.
He said the short service will include a few hymns, a short homily from Associate Pastor Ellen Di Giosia and communion.
“So much in this election cycle has been dehumanizing,” he said. “There’s plenty that pulls us apart, but communion is meant to put us back together no matter how polarized or detached we have become.”
Vickrey also hopes the communion service will help Christians focus on what really matters.
“The tenor of conversation I’m hearing from the religious communities in San Antonio is extremely negative, as if we are people with no hope,” he explained. “It’s as if our hope balances on the ballots of this election. My hope is that time at the table together will help us to zoom out of the 24-hour cable news cycle to see the larger picture of the work God is doing in creation.”
Stephen Cook, senior pastor at Second Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, said his church will host their election communion service as their midweek gathering on Wednesday evening.
That will help more people participate and still offer a good reminder that “when we wake up the morning after it’s all over, we will still be part of the one body of Christ, regardless of who is named president-elect.”
“We hope the service we share that Wednesday evening will give us a place to be still and remember that God is God and we are not,” he explained. “We know that some people will come feeling tempted to despair because they don’t like the outcome of Tuesday’s vote. We know others will come feeling tempted to gloat or relish another’s defeat. And we know that still others will come weary with it all and worn out from the pain this all-too-long election season has brought.”
“So for all of these we hope to make space to hear good news, practice confession and renew commitments to Christ and his ways of being in and among the world,” Cook said. “We will share a litany that reminds us of our oneness (based on Ephesians 4) and then have prayers for our nation, its leaders, as well as its citizens.”
He said the service will also include a time for “centering prayer and stillness,” a “short meditation on Christ’s commands to love God and neighbor,” a time of confession before communion, and hymns of unity.
Shortly after the nominating conventions this summer, Cook started a sermon series on “faith, politics and compassion.”
He and the other ministry staff designed the series earlier in the year to offer “a chance to articulate all the more our identity we find in Christ when we pledge allegiance to him in, above and beyond all else.”
Some churches will cross denominational lines to hold Election Day Communion services. The ecumenical nature of such services can add to the message of uniting around what really matters.
Quentin Madden, pastor of Colonial Avenue Baptist Church in Roanoke, Virginia, said the service at his church would be an ecumenical gathering with four Protestant ministers and one Catholic priest.
He noted they have hosted an election day communion in the past and emphasized “we certainly have no political stance to take and want this to be a time for unification around faith and prayer.”
“For each of us, communion is central to our faith and though there are differences among us, we can all agree that communion unites us,” Madden explained. “I will use the United Methodist Book of Worship for my liturgy as I am in particular agreement with the words in the prayer of Great Thanksgiving, ‘By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.'”
The website for the Election Day Communion initiative, ElectionDayCommunion2016.com, includes worship resources and a map of participating churches.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.