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Reform Magazine | September 19, 2017

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You’re welcome

You’re welcome

Imagine a church with no outsiders. Dave Tomlinson reflects on sharing Communion with Muslims

When I told a neighbour who says she doesn’t believe in God that 15 Muslim students came to our Midnight Mass at Christmas, and they received Communion, she literally wept for joy in the street.

‘Go steady, Dave,’ she told me. ‘You’re going to get me out of bed on a Sunday morning if you’re not careful!’

Most of us have had enough of black-and-white religion – not just when it leads to suicide bombings and terrorist attacks, but also when people insist on having a monopoly on God, or truth about God. To be honest, I had no idea that the group of students were Muslims. Midnight Mass is always bursting with visitors, and faces I don’t recognise. The students were just part of the crowd, with no particular indication that they were of a different faith.

When midnight struck, the church descended into customary delightful chaos with everyone wishing those around them a happy Christmas, and sharing the peace of Christ with a handshake or a hug.

A few minutes later, we stood around the altar (we have a large round altar table in the centre of the church) to celebrate the first mass of Christmas. This is the point at which, in many churches, an invisible line divides the ‘innies’ from the ‘outies’ – those who qualify to receive Communion from those who don’t. No such distinction exists at our church. Our approach to Communion is based on the example of Jesus in the Gospels where he ate and drank with all and sundry – often including people who were snubbed or rejected by the religious establishment, so-called ‘sinners’.

I therefore offered the invitation I give every Sunday: This is the table of Jesus Christ where all are welcome and no one is turned away. We therefore offer bread and wine to every single person here, without exception. If you would like to receive Communion, please come forward now. God welcomes all.

As people came forward for Communion, it was clear that more than usual opted for the nonalcoholic
alternative to wine, but it never occurred to me that this was because some were Muslims. Afterwards, the students beamed as they spoke of the warm welcome they found among us. ‘With all the hatred and violence going on in the world, we wanted to join with Christian brothers and sisters in celebrating the birth of Jesus,’ one young man told me with a broad grin and a twinkly eye. …

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This is an extract from an article that was published in the July/August 2017 edition of  Reform

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