As Americans head to the polls today, watch the news as the votes are counted, and offer sighs of relief as the torrent of attack ads come to an end, Christians across the nation are gathering for communion.
More than 750 churches in all 50 states and from 22 denominations are participating in what is called “Election Day Communion,” an effort to bring the church together for unity on an otherwise polarizing day.
“During the day of November 6, 2012, we will make different choices for different reasons, hoping for different results,” the effort’s website explains. “But that evening while our nation turns its attention to the outcome of the presidential election, let’s again choose differently. But this time, let’s do it together.”
“Election Day Communion began 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 website adds. “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.”
The key leaders behind the Election Day Communion efforts are two Mennonite pastors – one in Virginia and one in Indiana – and a lay Episcopalian in Michigan.
Among the numerous churches joining in this ecumenical, nonpartisan effort are about two dozen Baptist churches. Leaders at the churches echo the message of the effort’s creators about the church finding its place as a healing presence and not as part of the partisan division.
Kathy Dobbins, minister of spiritual formation at Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Ga., called the service an effort at “a healing and unifying way.”
“We will encourage our members to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ as they interact with fellow citizens on Election Day and the days that follow,” Dobbins added in her comments to EthicsDaily.com. “Our country is so polarized and politics have gotten so divisive that all of us need to be agents of grace and civility.”
Many churches are holding joint communion services with other churches in their city, in many cases to bring together churches of different denominations for this communion service.
For instance, First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga., will hold a joint service with five other churches in Decatur: a United Methodist, a Presbyterian, a Disciples of Christ, an Episcopalian and a Lutheran congregation.
“This election season has left many of us plumb worn out,” Julie Pennington-Russell, lead pastor of First Baptist Decatur told EthicsDaily.com. “Gathering at Christ’s table will come as welcome relief. Tomorrow night we will gather at Decatur First United Methodist Church. Our affirmation: Jesus is Lord. Our identity in Christ transcends all earthly affiliations and allegiances.”
Churches participating in Election Day Communion are encouraged to make “campaign” signs or stickers that emphasize the key messages of the effort, with suggestions including: “Kingdom First,” “Jesus is Lord,” “My Vote Ends at the Table” and “A Choice to Remember.”
For many participating in Election Day Communion, giving witness to an alternative to partisanship remains a key motivation.
Joe LaGuardia, senior pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Conyers, Ga., told EthicsDaily.com that Trinity is “concerned with presenting an alternative Christian voice to the partisan fray.”
“In short, we are seeking to bear witness to the unity of the Body of Christ in the midst of political diversity,” LaGuardia added.
The website for Election Day Communion also includes worship suggestions for prayers, Scripture readings, sermon texts and others aspects of communion services. Many of the items focus on people finding unity around the communion table.
“Our church is participating out of a concern that the political divisions of our country have increasingly become sources of division in our churches,” Kevin Glenn, senior pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Columbia, Mo., told EthicsDaily.com. “As a result, the Christian community is quickly becoming known more for its political affiliation than by the message of the gospel and our call to love God and our neighbor.”
“Our desire at Memorial is to come together at the Lord’s Table, remembering that Jesus belongs to no political party,” Glenn added. “We hope Tuesday’s communion will encourage all believers to hold our unity in Jesus Christ over our loyalty to partisan politics.”
With an expensive, nasty political campaign season coming to an end, it might be that the healing process actually begins on election night as a result of the Election Day Communion effort. That is the hope of the campaign’s leaders.
Kevin Glasser, one of the co-directors of Election Day Communion and pastor of Staunton Mennonite Church in Staunton, Va., told EthicsDaily.com that he hopes the event will impact how Christians act on Election Day and beyond.
“As we reach the final hours leading up to the 2012 election, please take time to remember that our allegiance to Jesus must always come before any allegiance to a party or candidate,” Glasser said. “If you vote, vote for the candidate who most closely reflects the values of Jesus as you understand them. But remember, at the end of the election, Jesus will still be the King of kings, Lord of lords.”
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.