LIMA — The Election Day Communion campaign was started by two Mennonite pastors, the Rev. Mark Schloneger of North Goshen Mennonite Church in Indiana and the Rev. Kevin Gasser of Staunton Mennonite Church in Virginia; and an Episcopal lay minister, Ben Irwin from Michigan.
According to its website, www.electiondaycommunion.org, the campaign, “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.”
“One reason we are doing this,” said the Rev. Paula Snyder Belousek, head pastor at one of the participating churches in the Lima area, Salem Mennonite Church, “is because we are interested in calling followers of Jesus around the table to be unified.”
The Election Day Communion will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Lima Mennonite Church. The hour-long service will include more than just communion.
“There will be singing, a Scripture reading, a short sermon, a time of confession, candle lighting, and of course, the communion,” explained the Rev. David Elkins, head pastor at Lima Mennonite Church, another participating church.
The Election Day Communion campaign had an original goal of getting 100 churches in 50 states to participate.
“As of this morning,” said Snyder Belousek, “there were 473 churches in 48 states. I think now the push is to have 500 churches participating by Election Day. I think there are even a few international churches participating as well.”
The communion is open to anyone of any faith.
“The pastors who started this were Mennonite,” said Snyder Belousek, “but there are over 20 different denominations that will be participating. If people come to the communion on Tuesday, there will be no prerequisites to participating.”
Snyder Belousek cited all the negative advertising and national discussion as one of the things that she hopes the communion will help to overcome.
“The level of rhetoric and discourse has been so divisive,” she said, “I think it is important to remind believers that their identity is in Christ, and that we are called to unity and reconciliation. In my own church there are Republicans, Democrats and Independents. We are wanting to call people to remember that only in Jesus is there ultimate hope.”
Added Elkins, “Election Day has a way of revealing deep fissures that exist between people. What we hope is the communion service will begin to show people that the divisions need to be healed and reconciled through Christ. That was part of His mission to bring healing and reconciliation and show people a new way forward.”
While both pastors are hoping that the communion fosters unity among believers, neither wants to downplay the importance of the issues or the strength of people’s political convictions.
“I think it is important to say that we are not trying to spiritualize the election season,” said Snyder Belousek. “We aren’t trying to paper over the issues or hold hands and sing ‘Kum Bay Yah,’ but it is deeply disturbing with the name calling and demonizing of the opposing candidate or other groups. We hope to empower believers to go out into the world and engage deeply with each other. We need to be unified to do that.”
Elkins added that the problem is not being politically active or having strong political opinions.
“It deserves to be reiterated that it is good to have strong political convictions and to support political causes,” he said. “We have to recognize, though, that there are Christians all over the political spectrum, and just because someone has different political convictions than you do, that doesn’t make them less of a Christian. Ultimately, politics don’t have the deep answers for the questions of life.”
While Elkins and Snyder Belousek have found members of their congregations to be mostly very supportive of the communion service idea, others in the community have not been as enthusiastic.
“I have heard it called a cop out,” said Elkins, “so we don’t have to take a stand or to avoid important issues. I have political convictions. They are mine, and I will vote, but they are secondary to my identity in Christ.”
By holding the Election Day Communion, the pastors hope to foster unity among all believers, no matter their political affiliations, but they also realize one service will not solve the problem of division and disunity among believers when it comes to the subject of politics.
“If people can just remember that Christ is who ultimately unites us,” said Elkins, “that is another small step toward looking at other people as also being children of God. Big things don’t happen with one service, but as a series of small steps. This service is one of those small steps, that we hope will help turn people toward each other.”