We totally lied last week. We said we were going to skip Easter by going Eastern Orthodox this week, but we ended up instead going to The Memorial service at the Greenacres Kingdom Hall.
When we first started the 52 Churches project, I was conceiving going all sorts of places. Michael wanted to stay within monotheistic traditions, and, as we’ve gone along, we’ve decided largely to stay within Christianity. The Jehovah’s Witnesses utilize the Bible as scriptural text (they use The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, first published by Watchtower in 1950), believe in God and Jesus (though they are not trinitarian), and consider themselves Christian. Many mainline and evangelical denominations consider the Witnesses either a “cult” or at least consider them outside orthodox Christianity. When I did my initial research (I usually poke around a little about the different denominations before we go, so we have an idea of what to expect), I found out that the Witnesses celebrate “The Lord’s Evening Meal,” also called “The Memorial” or “The Memorial Meal.” This is the one celebration they point out that Jesus commanded, and it is one of the few celebrations Witnesses participate in. The thing is, most of those in attendance don’t partake. So it’s the one main celebration they have–but they don’t really celebrate it.
I’ve always joked, as Episcopalians, when ever there’s more than two Episcopalians in the room, and at least one has a collar, we’re pretty much obliged to have communion. I think, in this project, I’ve rather missed having communion on a regular (at least once a week) basis. This week, most Episcopal churches have offered services with communion on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Great Easter Vigil, Sunrise Service, and at least one Easter morning service. That’s at least one-a-day during Holy Week.
My research indicated that, not only do the Witnesses only have a communion service once a year, very few of the people in attendance actually partake of “the emblems.” Last year, over 17 million Witnesses and visitors attended The Memorial, and just over 9,000 partook. This is because the qualifiers for partaking are very stringent, and include having a “heavenly hope” and knowing that the partaker is one of the 144,000 who will go to heaven. The other Witnesses believe in everlasting life on a “cleansed earth.”
The occasion is solemn, and most people are dressed in their “Sunday best.” There is an opening song, a sermon that talked about the importance of the occasion, explained the qualifications to partake, a prayer over the bread, and then the bread plates were passed throughout the congregation. The wine was likewise explained, with a brief digression into the kind of wine Jesus likely used (unfortified, no herbs added), another prayer, and then the wineglasses of red wine were also passed throughout the congregation. After that portion of the service, we sang another song, and were dismissed.
If you know me already, you know I’m hopelessly prompt. We got information about the service from the mother of one of the dancers at Farmergirl’s ballet company. She’d said the service would be at 8pm, but that it would be heavily attended, and she recommended that we arrive early. She suggested 7:30, and mentioned that some people would arrive up to an hour ahead. We arrived just after 7pm to find the service already in progress. The usher pointed us to a downstairs room, where the service upstairs was shown on a television. Michael was aghast, and I spent a portion of the service wondering how I messed it up. What we figured out at the end of the service was that there are two congregations meeting in that Kingdom Hall, and there was a second service, at 8pm, for the other congregation (which our dance friend had told us about).
Anyway, at the end, when we were to sing the second song (we missed the first one), we looked around for hymnals, which everyone else seemed to have. The usher next to Michael brought his, and a lovely young woman in the row ahead of us handed me hers, which was a great relief to the usher, who was having difficulty seeing his with Michael trying to hold it for all four of us to sing from. I flipped briefly to the front of the one I was holding, and noticed the name and congregation of the young woman who’d loaned me hers was in the end pages. It seems that folks have their own hymnals, and I saw at least two different copies–a small, softbound version, and a larger hardbound one.
We sang hymn 105, which I dearly wish I had the words for, because I am certain that the last verse had a bit about knocking door to door. If you followed the link in the last sentence, you’ll note that it leads to the words (and music) to that hymn (because, halfway through writing that sentence, I went and found the hymnal online). You’ll also note that there is no knocking at all.
The fourth verse is:
4. So hail Jehovah’s Firstborn!
Make known his Kingdom reign.
From house to house keep preaching,
The cause of truth maintain.
With personal attention
Show others what to do.
And stimulate our brothers
To hail God’s Firstborn too.
The elder (there are no clergy) who was leading the service made an invitation to all visitors for a world-wide Special Bible Discourse on April 6th at 1pm. I think the invitation might have been recycled from last year, as he cited the 16 million attenders and 8 thousand partakers of 2006 instead of the 17 million attenders and 9 thousand partakers of 2007. The announcement was almost identical to this one.
There is an outline for the service, which I understand is very similar worldwide.
As we drove to the service this evening, we tried to explain to Farmergirl what we thought the service might be like. I tried to simplify by saying, “We’re going to go not take communion with a group of people.” Given how central communion is to Episcopal worship, her first reaction was, “WHAT?!?” So we explained that probably no one was going to take the communion, and that we expected to pass the elements down our row, but that no one would take them. There were 173 people in attendance, and I’m pretty sure no one took the elements.
As we drove home, Michael said, “Well, that was the least spiritually uplifting thing we’ve done so far.” I tend to agree, but I think that of pretty much all fenced communions . . . this is just that same idea taken to the logical extreme. I have some questions about the JW Memorial Meal, that’ll probably end up being part of a letter. For example, the leader was quick to point out that they do not believe in any mystery surrounding the elements (that is, they don’t believe in transubstantiation or consubstantiation), and, as in many protestant traditions, the bread and wine are symbolic only. So do they use the same plate of bread and cups of wine for both (or all three) services? What do they do with the bread and the wine afterward? In the Episcopal, like the Catholic, tradition, the elements are completely consumed, or are disposed of in a piscina (a sink that drains directly into the earth, not into a sewer or septic system). What is done with the Memorial Meal emblems?
What’s the point in fencing off God’s table, as well as His heaven? Did the original founders not think the religion would be as successful as it is today? Did they figure the world would end after the 144,000 were accounted for? What’s so attractive about having a pyramid-marketing heaven, where the “top performers” get to go to heaven, but everyone else gets a “cleansed earth”? It all just seems like settling for second best.
I guess, too, this all gets to the question of what the point of communion is. Frederica Mathewes-Green writes about Orthodox Communion:
Orthodox believe that receiving communion is broader than me-and-Jesus; it acknowledges faith in historic Orthodox doctrine, obedience to a particular Orthodox bishop, and a commitment to a particular Orthodox worshipping community. There’s nothing exclusive about this; everyone is invited to make this commitment to the Orthodox Church. But the Eucharist is the Church’s treasure, and it is reserved for those who have united themselves with the Church.
But I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind for communion–uniting oneself with one particular church. I guess I would rather the church err on the side of drawing folks to Christ than fencing the table . . . and when you poke around and look at the folks Jesus broke bread with . . . well, he didn’t seem to have fencing in mind, either.
Before we left to attend, I stumbled on this video clip, called Apostate Crashes Jehovah Witness Memorial: Partakes of Emblems, which seemed kind of rude. But I think it points to a problem throughout the church: How does the church deal with people? What happens when the church (intentionally or unintentionally) hurts people? Where’s the line between setting aside oneself/congregation as holy, and discarding people? Or, in the trite cliche of today–WWJD?
I have the feeling He might really like this:
Resurrection at the Rainbow
What: An Easter service with live music, testimonies and drama with brunch
Where: The Rainbow Bar and Grill, 1824 E. Sprague Ave., Spokane
When: Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Other information: Since kids aren’t allowed inside the bar, two services will be held at the same time for teens and also for children in nearby buildings. Gospel rap, testimonies and a raffle will be held for youth at the Spokane Boxing Club, 1826 E. Sprague Ave. At Mending Fences, 1906 E. Sprague Ave., the children’s service will include music, stories and Easter baskets. Hot dogs, cookies and other treats will be served to the kids. It’s all free.
The article Raising the Bar starts out:
A few hours after the exotic dancers call it a night and customers guzzle down the last round of beer, Linda Davies will begin her work at the Rainbow Bar and Grill. Early on Sunday, the Spokane woman will show up at the tavern and strip club on East Sprague Avenue bearing flowers, streamers and helium balloons in every color of the rainbow.
For the last four years, this drinking hole – known for its “cold beer and hot women,” located on the street where serial killer Robert Yates picked up his victims – has turned into a place of worship on Easter Sunday.
More than 100 people usually show up for the service that’s become known as “Resurrection at the Rainbow.”
Instead of the wholesome, lily-white images often associated with the holiday, Easter at the tavern is certainly a dingier affair, a gathering that includes some rough and tough folks who spend most nights lurking along East Sprague.
Instead of dry-cleaned suits and pastel dresses, some arrive reeking of alcohol and wearing the clothes they wore the night before. A few also show up drunk or high or, at the very least, hung over.
. . . continue reading.
Washington’s weird/draconian alcohol laws make it so the children and teens have to worship separately . . . but I just have the feeling this might be just the Easter service Christ might be into in Spokane, WA.