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Post-election church services aim to reconcile Christian voters

Election Day Communion service in 2012 at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY. Photo courtesy of Election Day Communion
Election Day Communion service in 2012 at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY. Photo courtesy of Election Day Communion

Election Day Communion service in 2012 at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. Photo courtesy of Election Day Communion 2016

(RNS) The idea for an Election Day church service came to the pastor as he was pouring juice into little plastic cups.

Mark Schloneger was preparing for Communion that day in 2008 in the kitchen of Waynesboro Mennonite Church in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The phone rang. It was a robocall from Sarah Palin, the GOP’s vice presidential nominee that year. She was imploring Christians to go to the polls, vote for her party and take back the country.

In 2012 Mark Schloneger and friends inspired more than 900 congregations to hold Election Day Communion services. Photo courtesy of Mark Schloneger

In 2012 Mark Schloneger and friends inspired about 900 congregations to hold Election Day Communion services. Photo courtesy of Mark Schloneger

The call irked Schloneger. It was a perfect example, he said, of “how the siren songs of partisan politics interrupts our communion with each other and God.” It was then he thought of a way to do what he considered the opposite: to offer a Communion service on Election Day to bring Christians together.

It took a full election cycle for the idea to take off, but in 2012 Schloneger and friends inspired about 900 congregations across the nation to hold Communion on Election Day.

This year, after a presidential campaign many Americans deem the most divisive in their lifetimes, these services feel even more necessary to those organizing them — independently or as part of Election Day Communion 2016, as the movement is called.

Mennonite Mission Network Staff member, Jason Boone, coordinating minister for peace and justice. Photo courtesy of Jason Boone

Mennonite Mission Network staff member Jason Boone, coordinating minister for peace and justice. Photo courtesy of Jason Boone

Thousands of Christians will end this election season in the pews, praying and singing to remind themselves of God’s sovereignty in their lives.

It’s not to diminish the importance of voting and taking part in the democratic process, but about seeing another perspective, said Jason Boone, the Mennonite lay leader organizing Election Day Communion this year.

“It’s one individual, one vote. We go into the booth alone and we have all this power,” said Boone. “Then you go to Communion or you’re with the body (of believers). And you say, ‘You know what? My power is going to be in serving all of these people.'”

In some churches Election Day services go back several election cycles. In others, like McLean Baptist Church in Northern Virginia, it’s a new tradition inspired in part by a presidential campaign that has exposed deep fault lines over race, religion, class and gender.

Katie Morgan, minister of spiritual formation and outreach, Mclean Baptist Church, in McLean, Virginia. Photo courtesy of Katie Morgan

Katie Morgan, minister of spiritual formation and outreach, McLean Baptist Church, in McLean, Va. Photo courtesy of Katie Morgan

“The goal is to remind ourselves that God is One. The Scriptures that will be read have to do with God and God’s people being one and being united,” said Katie Morgan, McLean Baptist’s minister of spiritual formation and outreach.

For her church’s service, scheduled for the day after Election Day, Morgan and her colleagues have chosen, among other passages from Scripture, Ephesians 4:1-6 and John 17:20-23.

“The Ephesians passage speaks to the oneness of the faith, ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism,'” Morgan said. “Through faith we are united despite political affiliation, denomination or cultural preference.”

“The John passage reminds us that Christ is one with God. Therefore, God is the author of unity, especially in the demonstration of the Trinity,” she added.

The hymns they chose for the day: “They’ll Know We Are Christians,” “We Are One in Christ,” and “Blest Be the Tie That Binds.”

Churches participating in Election Day Communion in 2016 organize a service and advertise it on the movement’s website and Facebook pages, each of which includes an interactive map to help seekers find the service closest to them. There’s no prescribed way to hold the service, though the organizers are ready to share ideas.

This year, more than 260 churches have signed up so far — some of them holding joint services with other churches. Most are Protestant, including many Mennonite, Anabaptist, Methodist, Episcopal and Disciples of Christ congregations.

Why is the list of churches so much shorter this year than in 2012, which seemed like a civil and calm election season by comparison? Boone said that through internet searches he knows many churches are holding Election Day services and simply not alerting his team. That’s fine with him, because the important thing is to hold the services, he said.

A sign for voting and communion at Central United Methodist Church in Lawrence, Kan. Photo courtesy of Election Day Communion

A sign for voting and Communion at Central United Methodist Church in Lawrence, Kan., in 2012. Photo courtesy of Election Day Communion 2016

He offers another possible reason for the dip in participation: Some people may believe that the country is at a precipice, and that the stakes in this particular election are so high, and the political divide so wide, that coming together at the end may not seem possible.

Blogger Fred Clark, writing on the Patheos website before the 2012 election, expressed that general sentiment — questioning how, with LGBT questions on the ballot, gay people and their supporters could participate in a Communion service with fellow Christians who had just voted against gay rights.

While he appreciated the idea of Election Day Communion, Clark concluded that “it risks trivializing the enormous stakes today for many millions of people by treating all political disagreements as little more than angry looks exchanged between neighbors with different yard signs.”

Boone said he understands why those who feel most intensely about the election might be leery of an Election Day Communion. He admires their devotion to causes they hold dear. But he also wonders if these people could benefit the most from Election Day services.

“There’s a perspective and a grounding that can only happen through the church,” he said.

The Rev. Nathan D. Hilkert, who leads the Lutheran Church of the Messiah in Decatur, Ga., said it’s not only congregants who need that grounding, but pastors themselves.

He is one faith leader who freely acknowledges that he feels strongly that Democrat Hillary Clinton should win the election and that rival Donald Trump should be defeated. He doesn’t shout his preference from the pulpit. “But talk to me for 10 minutes and you know where I stand,” he said.

His church takes part in Election Day Communion 2016 with six other area congregations, to summon up a spirit of reconciliation which he longs for himself. “I do struggle to understand people who are equally strong for the opposite candidate,” and that’s where sharing Communion helps, he said.

“We are taking up shared convictions, expressing ourselves in a shared language. Trying to find those places of commonality is important to me,” Hilkert said.

“Our religious convictions give us the picture of what it is we hope to achieve and see in the world.”

Among the churches offering services independent of the national effort is the Washington National Cathedral, which has scheduled three services on Nov. 9, including one before school geared to parents with children. Staff at the schools associated with the cathedral noticed students growing increasingly stressed as the lengthy campaign season wore on.

This lineup of post-Election Day services — plus prayers on social media in the days leading up to the election — is something the cathedral has never offered before.

“Then again, we haven’t seen a campaign quite like this before,” said Kevin Eckstrom, the cathedral’s chief communications officer.

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)

11 Comments

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  • The planned Communion services are a good idea, and hopefully they will prove to be helpful and concilatory for many people. But blogger Fred Clark has a strong, unavoidable point (as seen from either side of the fence).

    The issues on the table are very real, with far-reaching implications for all of us. Those issues absolutely **won’t** go away after Election Day, not even with a Communion service.

  • Anything that reminds believers to place their trust in God, and work collegially together to that end needs to be applauded. But as has been pointed out, none of the deep seated problems facing this nation are going to go away after Election day.

  • I’m sure some bozo will be offended and want to report the vote and (communion) after the vote area as an intrusion of chruch and state, just because they can.

  • More namby pamby pap. Holding a church service with apostates and heretics who have denied the fundamental social and moral truths of the Christian Faith will do nothing but cause a reduction as has the ecumenical movement of true Christian witness and belief.

  • You obviously don’t understand the concept of separation of church and state. Even if a church is used as a polling place it is still a church. This bozo doesn’t care if church services are taking place at the same time people are voting because it’s a church and I’m the guest (intruder).

  • Apostates and heretics, huh? You are the judge, of course. Time to get a stake, start a fire and deal with them as they did in the good old days. ?

  • Gee, isn’t the message of God’s sovereignty the most powerful message that churches and pastors could have put out there in the beginning?! They’ve let their parishioners live in anguish about this nasty campaign, when they could have ministered the comfort of this central truth of our lives all along.

  • TRUMP WON! TRUMP WON! TRUMP WON!

    But WHO lost yesterday and the days to follow?

    Yesterday was the choice between a Baal priestess and Baal priest. By Yahweh’s sovereignty, America got the Baal priest:

    “This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.” (Daniel 4:17)

    And this for the judgment of ungodly nations.

    The real losers yesterday were the Christians (and America) who, could have been a light to the world and the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13) but who, ONCE AGAIN, chose to reject Yahweh’s way of doing things and chose complicity with the Baal priest, and who have, in turn, helped perpetuate the ever-intensifying whirlwind initiated by the 18th-century founders in 1787.

    “[B]ecause they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law … they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” (Hosea 8:1, 7)

    Get ready for more judgment, praise God, because it’s more and more evident that it’s the only thing that’s going to wake up America. Christians if you helped elect Trump to office get ready to do a lot of repenting because you will be complicit in every crime Trump commits against Yahweh and His Word while in office (1 Timothy 5:22)

    For more, see blog article “Could YOU be a Disciple of Baal and Not Know It?” at
    http://www.constitutionmythbusters.org/could-you-be-a-disciple-of-baal-and-not-know-it/.

    Then online Chapter 3 “The Preamble: WE THE PEOPLE vs. YAHWEH” of “Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution: The Christian Perspective” at http://www.bibleversusconstitution.org/BlvcOnline/biblelaw-constitutionalism-pt3.html.

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