The first Sunday in October is celebrated by many different Christian denominations as World Communion Sunday. We observe it as a way of lifting up Christian unity and the commonality of our faith in Christ that transcends the differences of nation, culture, and language without erasing them, so we experience unity in Christ without being forced into uniformity.
But, did you know that World Communion Sunday began because of the efforts of a single Presbyterian congregation in Pennsylvania? It’s true! In 1933, the Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh began the observance of World Communion Sunday as a program of their particular congregation.
The senior pastor there had served as Moderator of the General Assembly a few years earlier, and as a result of his travels in that role, he felt that churches needed to make an intentional effort to promote unity and cooperation across national, cultural, and denominational boundaries. Shadyside Church began to celebrate it, and within a couple of years it had been adopted as a denominational initiative by the General Assembly. But actual participation spread a little more slowly, both within and beyond the Presbyterian Church. It wasn’t until 1940, when the National Council of Churches adopted it, that it really began to take off.
Now, remember what was going on in the world in 1940: in many ways, it was the darkest days of World War II, when most of Europe had fallen to the Nazi armies, the United States had not yet entered the war, and the Battle of Britain was raging as the British stood alone against the Nazis. The world was a very grim, violent, and divided place, and hope for a better future was in short supply. It was in that environment that the observance of World Communion Sunday really took off.
That means World Communion Sunday is not just an inspiring celebration but a bold proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, laying claim to the promise that in Christ our unity is greater than our deepest divisions, our hope for peace is not ultimately based on the will and action of human beings but of God.
So, I hope you’ll make a special effort to be in worship this Sunday to be a part of that celebration and proclamation. And I hope you’ll be thinking about what this Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania might do in the coming days that could promote unity, reconciliation, and peace in a similar way!