Posted by: smstrouse | January 18, 2014

Holy Communion for Interfaith Ministers???

imagesToday I taught a class on Holy Communion. Big deal, you might say. Isn’t that what most pastors do at some time or another?

True. But today I taught the class at the Chaplaincy Institute (ChI) in Berkeley. ChI is an interfaith seminary, which prepares people for either ordination as an Interfaith minister and chaplain or certification as an Interfaith Spiritual Director.

My assignment as a guest faculty member was to teach the history of the Christian sacrament of Holy Communion and assist the students in creating their own rituals that would be authentic for both them and the people to whom they minister.


The history part was fairly easy, if complicated. How to distill 2000+ years of development into a power point presentation? But we covered it: from the Jewish roots of the Eucharist, through the ‘Real Presence’ debates,  to the new controversy of (wait for it) on-line Communion.

The more challenging task was to bring all this into practice in an interfaith setting, such as a hospital or nursing home. The students themselves represented a wide range of backgrounds: practicing and non-practicing Catholics, current and former Christians of various kinds, adherents of Buddhism, Judaism, Goddess religion and Creation spirituality. All were concerned with being knowledgeable and respectful of this sacred tradition, while also being true to their own beliefs or non-beliefs.

They asked great questions (I was grateful that most of what they wanted to know was in my presentation) and offered valuable insights. But probably the best parts of the day were things that I had not planned at all.

First was the role play. I’d intended for them to write their own liturgies. I handed out a bunch of samples – from traditional to contemporary – and gave them time to look them over and discuss them in pairs. But when I asked if they were ready to begin writing, I saw that “deer in the headlights” look and changed course. I offered to do a role play, with me as the chaplain and a student as a hospital patient. “Mary” bravely volunteered. While praying with my “patient,” I felt the other students watching intently, not just as observers of a role play, but as participants in a holy and pastoral encounter. It was moving for me, and I know it was moving for “Mary” because I saw tears running down her cheeks as I offered her the bread and wine.  This experience really opened up the conversation to wonderful questions and insights and ideas.


(They especially were impressed with my handy-dandy portable home Communion kit, as old and beat up as it is!)

The second wonderful thing that happened was that, as the afternoon was winding down, I asked what else they needed: more question and answer, more role play? One of the students, a Buddhist, immediately spoke up and asked if we could have Communion together. I must admit I was somewhat taken aback. I hadn’t expected that, even though I had set out a loaf of bread and a chalice on a tablecloth in the front of the room. So we were good to go.

I also had included the Communion liturgy that we had used at First United this summer, which is very inclusive and interfaith-friendly.

I was delighted that that was the one they wanted to use. And so we did, standing in a circle and joining in this ancient rite of fellowship, thanksgiving, hospitality, love, acceptance and healing. It was lovely.


I’d been kind of nervous about teaching this class. But I don’t think it could have gone any better, thanks to the openness of the students. Their gracious comments after class were very affirming. Especially the one from a former Lutheran, who said “I think I’d like your church!”

We’ll see what the evaluations say. In any event, I had a great time. And I hope I’m asked back to do it again.



  1. I believe that every meal lovingly prepared ans shared with friends is an opportunity for “Holy Communion.


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