Worship and Election Day

Photo by Theresa Thompson. Used by permission CC-BY-2.0.
United Methodists and others are beginning to organize a variety of opportunities for worship in connection with the upcoming November elections in the United States.

Some are beginning to plan ecumenical "Election Eve" services on November 5 as occasions to gather communities across multiple denominational (and party!) lines to pray together. I've been asked to offer a model for such a service.

The best model I can think of, for historical and ecumenical reasons, as well as because it is widely shared across multiple denominations, is Evening Prayer. United Methodists have excellent resources for designing a rich service of Evening Prayer that other denominations could easily recognize and be able to share. See The United Methodist Hymnal (878-879), The United Methodist Book of Worship (564-576) or The Upper Room Worshipbook (14-20). In addition to the biddings listed for the Prayers of the People in each of these services, one might add a prayer for the upcoming elections themselves. Here is an example.

For faithful citizenship, for access to vote for all who seek it, for a fair and complete tally, and for the unity of our communities, states and nation, we pray to you, O God... Christ, have mercy.

Others are joining an fairly rapidly growing movement to offer a service of Word and Table after the polls have closed, as a sign and pledge of our unity in Christ, whatever our diversity at the polls. For more information on this, and the opportunity to let others know you are doing this, see ElectionDayCommunion.org.

I've also been asked to suggest an order of worship for such a service. Again, since the point of this gathering is not to call attention to the occasion per se, but rather simply to help us be the body of Christ together, I would recommend using the most widely used form of our Service of Word and Table, Word and Table I (UMH 6-11).

However you design a service of Word and Table for this occasion, do not offer "drop in" or "self-serve" reception of the elements. Such approaches do not constitute Holy Communion in our ritual or our teaching on the sacrament.  For United Methodists, as for most other Christians in the larger historical ecumenical sacramental traditions, communion does not consist in distributing the elements to individuals (more or less an individual act that focuses on the elements themselves) but rather in the gathered community offering its praise and thanksgiving to God for all that our Triune God has done to save us. The sharing of the elements is part and parcel of this larger, whole-assembly celebration of the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, not an after effect of some "magic words" spoken by some ordained person at some previous point in time.

It is those who participate in the actual Eucharistic sacrifice (our common prayer of Great Thanksgiving) who normatively are those who receive. We then may also extend the table from such community-wide celebrations to those who would have been present, but who for substantial reasons (such as illness or incapacity) were unable to attend. And the norm here is to extend the table as soon as possible following the regular service of worship involving the gathered community. Leaving elements after such a celebration for people to receive at their convenience does not constitute an extension of table in our sacramental theology.

To be sure, other traditions do offer "come and go" options. This is because they have a very different sacramental theology than we do. They are free to follow their theologies and practices. We are called to follow our own.

Many of our congregations will have used the readings for All Saints on November 4, and so will have skipped the readings actually assigned for that day. So a Tuesday evening service might be a great time to allow your congregation and others in your area to hear what they may have missed. The readings for November 4, 2012 are Ruth 1:1-18, Psalm 146, Hebrews 9:11-14, and Mark 12:28-34. You can use our Lectionary Planning Helps, focusing on the November 4 readings, to help you develop an Election Eve celebration that also prepares your congregation(s) for the coming Sunday. And as you do, you may also find some of our prayers and other resources for elections helpful.

Whenever and however you gather as communities of Jesus Christ in light of the coming elections, may you find ways, amidst any political differences, to embody and celebrate the reality that he has broken down every dividing wall of hostility, and may the peace of Christ, surpassing all human understanding, radiate through your hearts and lives.