A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: WORLD COMMUNION SUNDAY
What unites us is greater than what divides us
The first Sunday in October is celebrated by many different Christian denominations as World Communion Sunday. We observe World Communion Sunday 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.
One of the great things about World Communion Sunday is that it is not an observance that came from some grand international ecumenical gathering or council; it originated as a grassroots observance right here in Pennsylvania. The senior pastor of the Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh had served as Moderator of the General Assembly, which requires extensive national and international travel to represent the General Assembly among Presbyterians and our ecumenical partners.
He became convinced that the church needed to be more intentional about promoting Christian unity across national, cultural, and denominational boundaries. So the Shadyside congregation simply began to celebrate World Communion Sunday on their own. But within a few years, others had picked up the practice, and then it was encouraged by the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly. It finally really took off when the National Council of Churches heard about it and adopted it as an observance for all its member denominations.
So this Sunday we will observe World Communion Sunday right here in Bethlehem, like thousands of other congregations across this country and around the world. And that in itself is important, because ironically, the sacrament of Communion is one of the most divisive issues in ecumenical Christianity.
Denominations and theological traditions not only disagree on various aspects of the practice, but exclude each other from sharing in leadership or even just participating. So World Communion Sunday is an affirmation that what unites us is greater than what divides us, which is always worth remembering.
So as we celebrate on Sunday, I also want to encourage us to think about what this congregation can do in its ministry and life together that would cause others to say, “Yes, that’s a great idea! We should do that, too.” The ideas that change the world almost always start small and then grow into something larger over time, as Jesus himself pointed out in his parable about the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-33).
So if you have an idea and you’re willing to help make it a reality, let us know what you’re thinking, and who knows what God might do with it!
Grace and Peace,