New things in the new year

I traveled to Bo late last week for a  workshop with a select group of  ELCSL evangelists.   Rev. Edward Lavally (chair of the Commission on Evangelism and Outreach) and I worked together to teach these lay leaders about the sacrament of holy communion in the Lutheran tradition and to train them to preside at the Lord’s table.

Participants in the training for holy communion: Wilfred Kamara of Faith, Freetown, James Vandy, St. Anthony's, Yeagele, Rev. Lavally (teacher), Henry Massaquoi, Mt. Olive, TImidale, Marion Boima, St. Paul, Kissy, and Dwight Suluku, Messiah, Taima. Two additional evangelists were not present for the picture.

The evangelists have been asking for this training for some time, and the Commission on Evangelism debated at length about the best way to address the need for communion services in congregations not served by pastors.  In the end, the Commission selected 7 of the 23 ELCSL evangelists to participate .  Five of these are in remote provincial congregations and two are serving  in Freetown in congregations without pastors.   The evangelists who participated in the training will be “tested” in August and be eligible for certification as Eucharistic Ministers thereafter.

I’m always struck by the variety of issues that arise as we seek to train and support the churches in Sierra Leone.   Language is an ongoing issue.  Rev. Lavally asked the evangelists to learn the communion liturgy in English. He said the upcountry evangelists would be able to translate easily into Mende once they know the service by heart in English.   During the workshop last week, we also talked at length about the elements used in holy communion.   A visiting pastor shared his experience of being asked to celebrate holy communion in a distant village and using coconut water and cassava root for the elements.  In that instance, he needed to be creative, and to use the resources available.  He believed, (and I concur)  that in those extraordinary circumstances,  he was indeed celebrating holy communion, and that with the words of promise and command spoken by Jesus, God was present in the act of sharing food and drink. In our teaching, however, we instructed the evangelists to stay within the ancient tradition of the church, and to use bread and “juice” for holy communion.  Most village congregations will be able to procure  bread, as long as they plan ahead.  Communion wine is not easily accessed and so the question of the cup presents a greater challenge here.   Grape juice is not easily found either, and with wine  is also very expensive.   The  alternative communion drink used by most ELCSL  churches is a cherry soda.

Rev. Christopher Yanker, St. Peter's,Romankneh. The communion trays were most likely sent by churches in northern Texas. St. Peter's does not have a chalice. Distribution of communion drink is by plastic cups which are recycled month after month.

Additionally, none of the remote village congregations have communion ware or easy, affordable access to  suitable alternatives.   Most plates, cups and dishes used in daily life here are plastic, and that is by far the most practical and affordable material for this context.  We encouraged the evangelists, however, to set aside special items for holy communion.   I was able to purchase simple, durable wine glasses with short stems to be used as the chalice in the village congregations, and we encouraged the evangelists to purchase a suitable plate for the communion bread.

I originally posted this picture in Oct. 2009 after worshiping in Yeagele. Since I was a visiting pastor, the congregation celebrated holy communion for the first time. We brought the chalice, bread and drink, and improvised for other communion ware items. St. Anthony's evangelist was among those trained to preside, so the congregation will now be able to share holy communion on a regular basis.

In addition to their own learning about holy communion, the evangelists now have the task of returning to their communities and teaching their people — what it means; the liturgy itself; as well as the very practical details about how to receive the bread and wine.   In my experience here, baptism and communion are often occasions for “holy chaos,” as worshipers (especially the children) eagerly seek to participate.  It is my hope that local congregations and the ELCSL as a whole will be strengthened and renewed as “Christ is known [anew] in the breaking of the bread” — especially in those places where the bread has not often been shared before.

3 responses to “New things in the new year

  1. Hi Kate:
    You are sensitive to local conditiions in an extraordinary way and for that I am grateful. I remember my early pastoral days, when the subject of what elements to use came up, we would ruminate (mostly in fun) about whether it would be appropriate to use potato chips and Coca Cola for the elements if bread and wine were not available. I remember over and over saying: “Of course not…it has to be bread and fruit of the vine…,” Well, my heart and theology still affirm that answer…but, then, do we deny the sacramental moment because we only have coconut water and casava root. If Jesus instituted the Last Supper in Sierra Leone, I trust he would have used those or similar elements that were available at the time. Perhaps we are blessed that he used bread and wine; for us that makes it easy. If we were restricted to casava root and coconut water, we’d be in trouble!

  2. Catherine Tietjen

    St. Peter’s will have a chalice. 🙂 I so wish more of the Evangelists could have participated but this is a very good beginning. You are a blessing to them all!

  3. Hi Kate, I’m working on collecting some LBW resources books as requested and have asked for chalice/paten sets. How good to see this training and the capacity to share Christ through the gift of Holy Communion in locations.

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