Holy Communion and Generosity
Professor Carol Johnston has written a paper entitled “Do This, Remembering Me: The Lord’s Supper as Pattern of the Practice of Receiving and Giving: Foundation of Generosity in the Church”. The lengthy title captures the essence of her argument. In her research project she set out to discover how giving and faith relate to each other. When she interviewed church members, “Their testimony made it clear to me that their generosity had been learned from the teaching and practice of generosity in these churches . . . People cannot learn how to give until and unless they have learned to receive . . . the Lord’s Supper is no less than the central paradigm for the practice of Receiving and Giving for Christians.”
Johnston suggests that “giving is part of a larger Christian practice that has been worked out in the churches and in the lives of Christians for generations, a ‘practice’ that I call ‘Receiving and Giving’ . . . Receiving and Giving is a transformational process that is fundamental to all life, initiated and sustained by the steadfast generosity of God.”
“I set out to find how giving and faith relate to each other, and I felt that the best course was to ask ‘saints’ of the churches who are living it out with integrity. . . At the heart of the matter, in every church, was the experience of being loved by God.”
Prof. Carol Johnston
She points out that “From the beginning of Christianity, the offertory has been integral to the Eucharist or Lord’s supper.” Her paper goes on to argue for paying careful attention to how the offertory is done. Johnston notes that bringing forward money and communion elements in an offertory procession helps to keep the fruits of human labour connected to the process of transformation that occurs in Holy Communion. In one of the parishes she studied, the lay people who bring forward the bread, wine and offering also remain at the altar for the eucharistic prayers.
By conducting the offertory with careful attention, we communicate that giving is — or can become — a powerful spiritual practice. When people see the connection between their giving and the ministries of the church, givers become reconnected with both God and neighbour. The practice of Receiving and Giving has the power to transform us in ways we may not expect.
Do we communicate this in our worship practices? Or do we keep worship in a silo labelled “holy”, and money in another labelled “profane”? Do we help people make the available connections in their worship and their living?
Can you provide examples of other ways worship communicates (or could communicate) something about giving?