Conversation on Class – Water Communion
Many of our congregations hold a water communion on a Sunday in late summer or early fall. We did ours today. The ritual can be moving if it works to build a sense of beloved, inclusive, community. The metaphor of water is easy to do that with, every drop is important, no matter who you are you add something that enriches us all.
I have grown to love the water communion, but I used to hate it.
I still hate it when everyone in the congregation gets up and tells long rambling stories about where they collected their water. It is a worst nightmare version of joys and sorrows. (I also don’t like joys and sorrows, but that is a different post).
The worst part about it is when people are bragging about where they went on their summer vacation. “Oh, this is water from the river Jordan.” If people have no money and no time off because they work at low paying lousy jobs with no vacation time or benefits, they don’t need to hear someone gloat about their world travels in a church service. The minister or worship leader always says the water could be from your backyard, but that doesn’t help that much when most people seem to be talking about places like a beach somewhere in Tahiti. The water communion as practiced in some of our churches is elitist and classist.
Some vacation stories might be OK for coffee hour conversations, but they are definitely NOT Ok for worship. Even at coffee hour, I hope the conversation doesn’t go, “I went to Greece, Italy and Spain over the summer. Where did you go? ” It is hard to answer that without feeling the class differences. Maybe all you did was go camping at a nearby park, or maybe you went nowhere at all. Not everyone gets vacation time and not everyone who has the time, has the money to travel. Is that so hard to understand?
We have got to get over the assumption that some of us have that our congregations are composed entirely of upper middle class professionals. One, it isn’t true. It is a myth. There are poor and working class people in most every UU congregation, but in too many they are quiet about it because of shame and the fear of rejection. And two, if we act like that is the reality we will in the process drive a lot of good folks away.
My other pet peeve is calling the water communion service, ingathering or homecoming Sunday. The terms probably date back to when most of our New England churches closed for the summer because “everyone” was gone (because “everyone” could afford to the leave the heat of the city?). Some of our churches still do that, even in the west, and some of the “summer services” in some of our congregations are simply dreadful. They are not worship, in any sense of that word. It may in fact be better to close than offer something that resembles a lecture or a living room rap sessions. Yes, ministers tend to take some vacation time during the summer, but there is no reason lay led services can’t be of excellent quality.
The terms “Ingathering” and “Homecoming” also imply that most people went away and that many of them did not attend all summer long. That just isn’t true anymore and it devalues those folks that faithfully attended throughout the summer.
I do understand that the fall signals the “New Church Year.” Programing picks up and formal religious exploration classes begin again. It is the beginning of school for families with children. It is a lovely time to dedicate new board members and teachers. It is also the time of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and yes, the Days of Awe are well worth mentioning in a religious community.
But ingathering? How does that sound if you didn’t go anywhere? Homecoming? What if you have been home all summer?
We need to start examining what we call things and how we do things through the filter of class awareness. Habit is not an excuse. “We have always called it that, we have always done it that way,” is perhaps an explanation, but it is not a reason to continue to do so. “Susan will be disappointed and upset if she doesn’t get to say where her water comes from,” may be a true statement. But much better to disappoint some people than to send an unspoken but crystal clear message to others that our community is not for them and that they will never, ever fit in.
We are much, much better than that.
See blog post about this topic by other UU ministers: