Not sure where to go Sunday? I hear the Baptists are serving Beaujolais
In a bit of ecumenical news that may shock believers in both traditions, American Baptists and Episcopalians in Dayton, Ohio will worshiping together for four weeks--capping their joint Eucharist off with real, honest-to-goodness wine. With Christ Episcopal Church's building undergoing renovation, the congregation at First Baptist Church (the two pastors are friends and colleagues) decided to invite the Episcopalians for a worship-over. Even though the American Baptist tradition tends to eschew wine in its services because of the Baptist tradition's connection to the late 19th and early 20th century temperance movement, they decided to help the Episcopalians feel at home. "I told my congregation that is the essence of hospitality to make them feel that this is their space," said First Baptist Pastor Rodney Kennedy. Grape juice will also be offered during communion, though some of Kennedy's parishioners have said that they will be slipping over to the wine line.
The ecumenical encounter is stirring up some important questions for the host church, including why the Baptist tradition doesn't use wine, according to the story in the Associated Baptist Press: "I've wondered for years why Baptists fought so hard for the biblical model of immersion as non-negotiable, but gave up wine so readily in the temperance movement," said Wake Forest professor of Baptist studies Bill Leonard of Wake Forest Divinity School. "Many Baptist writers raised similar questons in the early 20th century."
What a great model for encounter among Christians: Getting together, especially for common worship, is always an invitation to ask why we do things in a certain way in our own tradition. More often than not, we may discover that the main reason isn't a very good one: "We've always done it this way." We may also discover a seemingly unbridgeable divergence, say, about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But, we may discover that we can be comfortable with those differences--granting they probably exist (and are just unacknowledged) in our home traditions.
The Christ Church/First Baptist get-together is also a good model for the future: As our culture becomes more secular, it's going to become more and more important for churches across traditions to seek opportunities to work together, support one another, and continue to heal the rifts of history. There's no reason joint liturgy of some kind--morning prayer, Taize, weddings, baptisms--can't be a regular part of parish life. In fact, I'd argue it should be.