By: Tamara Roberts
God has been present to me in so many ways—in moments of prayer, in the natural beauty all around me in my North Bend home, and sometimes, in the rituals of the church. God shows up in surprising places and in surprising ways, and in God’s wake there is love, healing and transformation! Traditionally Christians have experienced the Mystery in communion. But for me, communion has historically been problematic. Growing up unchurched in the Bible Belt I often was invited to attend church with friends who were genuinely concerned for the state of my immortal soul. I attended several churches, but I was bewildered by the people and the services. What stays with me even now is the distinct memory of being excluded from communion. It was like being invited to a birthday party, then being told I couldn’t have a piece of the cake. Going to church just highlighted the fact that somehow I didn’t belong to God.
Years later, when my husband and I started attending church, I was terrified of communion. Once I figured out the schedule—communion on the first Sunday of the month—I overslept or came up with excuses to skip church on those Sundays. But sometimes I forgot to pay attention to the date and arrived at church on a communion Sunday. Upon entering the sanctuary and seeing the bread and the wine, I would think, “Sh*t!” My stomach would churn, and my body would vibrate with anxious energy. I could not listen to the service, I could not enjoy the community, all I could do was try to plot my escape.
Finally, one Sunday I figured out that communion happened after the Passing of the Peace. Halleluiah. Now my escape route was clear. I would simply exchange signs of the peace, moving ever closer to the exit, and then listen to the rest of the service from the narthex. I was so stealthy that my husband didn’t even notice that skipping out on communion was my regular pattern. I was able to come to every service, and I would even “force” myself to try to partake a couple of times a year. This continued for a couple of years, and might have continued to this day, had it not been for my girls.
At family church camp, we celebrate communion with the whole community together. On that Sunday during camp, there was fresh baked bread, and the delicious smell added to the general joy and excitement of everyone there, especially of the little kids. Our kids are usually in church school during communion, so for them this was a very special treat. My little girls grabbed my hands, almost jumping up and down with excitement. They practically danced up the aisle. I was clearly not going to be able to escape this time, so I started to steel myself for what was to come. And then, something happened. I looked at my happy daughters, and around at the smiling faces of this community I had come to love very much, and I thought, “What if I could do this in the same spirit as my girls?” We got to the front of the line and following their lead I took a generous hunk of the fresh bread, dipped it in the wine, and I ate, flooded with joy instead of fear. My youngest daughter turned to me and asked, “Are there seconds on the Bread of Life?” I threw back my head and laughed and told her yes, indeed, there are seconds on the Bread of Life.
Over the years my comfort with communion increased, but it remained a source of mixed emotions until my internship at St. Paul’s in 2003. When I got to St. Paul’s, I meant to talk to Tim, the minister at St. Paul’s, about my shaky relationship with communion. Really I did. But what with one thing and another, the topic never came up. Then, one Sunday morning—first Sunday in October—I arrived, practiced with the choir, then came down to get ready to give my first sermon ever. Tim said, “Tamara, I forgot to talk to you about communion. You and I will serve. I will do the bread so you can hear everyone’s name, and then you do the wine.” I managed a nod. But inside I was cringing. This was clearly not the time to mention that I was allergic to receiving communion and probably wasn’t a good choice to be offering it! I might have gotten myself all worked up, but just then the organ sounded and it was time for the opening hymn. I started to sing and I started to pray and I said, “Okay, look what You’ve gotten me into NOW. I hope You know what You’re doing!”
And you know what? God did know what She was up to. Because I fell in love with communion that day. And I fell in love all over again with God and with God’s people. As I had the privilege of serving, offering the cup of blessing, I was healed and transformed by the sheer love of it all. God’s love. My love. St. Paul’s love. God was present to me in communion, and that presence loved, healed and transformed me. Long ago I wrote in my journal:
What I want most is to be at home in God’s loving arms and to be of good heart and cheer, and to go out into the world and do what Love would have me do. I want to follow my first calling to make a family, to make a home and I want to let God make more of me, let that calling make more of me than I would have made of myself. Let that call keep working it’s transformation—not get scared, sit down, and say “this is far enough, God, can’t go any farther.” I want to keep going even when I say I want to quit. I want to let God keep expanding my definition of love, home, family, generosity.
This prayer has been answered. And it is my prayer today as well, as I move forward toward ordained ministry. Because I still get scared. And I often want to quit. But I also want to be healed. I want to be transformed. I want to be radically available to God. I want to live in God’s love, now and forevermore. I want to say YES to God with my life. I want to see where this journey with God goes next.
Tamara Roberts is on the path to ordination in the United Church of Christ, currently seeking a call to parish ministry. She has served as a minister in several churches in the greater Seattle Area, and is currently working with her home congregation, University Congregational UCC, to revamp revitalize and reimagine Young Adult Ministry. She graduated with her Master of Divinity degree in 2008, and has returned to the School of Theology and Ministry to pursue a post-master’s certificate in pastoral counseling. She loves running and cycling, reading and writing, cooking and eating. She and her husband recently launched their daughters to college and are newly empty-nesters in North Bend. She currently blogs at A Live Coal in the Sea and would love to see you there.