Mountainside Communion was the first church I ever visited by myself, and at a time where I felt the ‘self’ I carried wouldn’t be welcomed through any church door. I felt on the verge of being found out, much like the time I was caught helping my grandfather prepare communion before our worship service.
Children weren’t allowed in the sacristy of our cathedral. Their wiggly hands and unpredictable passions were considered too risky for the Eucharist. My grandpa, on the other hand, believed in coaching. He guided me through each step, showing me how to properly pour the wine into a white plastic cylinder that allowed you to fill each individual communion cup without touching the liquid.
He offered the device to me, and with nervous, serious concentration, I emptied the contents into each vessel—feeling like a wizard as I turned aged Merlot into the blood of Jesus Christ. But the lesson was soon interrupted by a church member that passed by the doorway, shocked by the scene of a nine year old girl with butterfly barrettes standing on sparkled tip toes over the chalice.
Some of the wine-turned-blood splashed onto the floor in my surprise. I was hurriedly ushered out of the room and reprimanded.
I wasn’t old enough, they told me. But later on, I wasn’t woman enough either. Nor were my friends and neighbors man enough, educated enough, straight enough, American enough, pure enough, or wealthy enough.
And as I entered the side alleyway where I was told I’d find Mountainside Communion in the belly of a pink, old building, I didn’t feel ‘enough’ of anything. I approached an unmarked door as two children rushed past me on scooters, barreling down a makeshift ramp toward the familiar sounds of church community: quiet laughter, ‘hellos’ and ‘good to see you’s,’ and a faint strumming guitar.
They’re not old enough, I thought, following carefully after. I turned the corner to find a wide room with a random selection of padded and metal folding chairs. I took a seat toward the back, nestled against a wall divider so no one would sit next to me.
The service began, a familiar hymn inspiring people to stand and sing. I joined them from my corner; setting aside my Bible I brought as cultural prop when the room began to fill with sound, a lot of different sounds.
Sticks clapped together.
My eyes darted around the room trying to locate the source of each improvised note. Each child held a small musical toy or instrument in their hands, and like a trail of ants, more toddlers and youth walked up toward the front of the room where a small canvas box kept producing noisy trinkets for all. I glanced at the people beside me, who seemed unphased by the commotion, just as an infant crawled on the floor past my feet.
They’re not old enough, I thought again, trying to ignore the voice of my grandmother who constantly reminded me not to draw in the hymnals, to sit perfectly still, and to not snicker when my grandpa fell asleep once again during the sermon.
The piano signaled another song. The orchestra of tiny hands quickened their pace, moving sporadically in miscommunicated rhythms. The church service continued in this fashion. Children running in and out; rubbing sticky fingers on the backs of people sitting in front of them; excitedly rushing toward the feet of the pastor as he began to preach; and playing peek-a-boo with the worship leaders.
My distraction and bewilderment began to shift to a sense of marvel. The children were allowed to be children. They were allowed to be messy, to be silly, to be engaged, and to be welcomed. And perhaps, if they could, maybe I would be too.
‘Come and eat.’
The familiar words came out of the pastor’s mouth as he tore apart the bread and motioned over the grape juice, performing the magical transformation to body and blood. My body tensed, waiting for the terms of conditions to be read aloud like side effects off a medicinal commercial. Come and eat, only those who’ve taken our courses, who’ve performed our membership classes, who’ve walked the walk, who’ve volunteered, who’ve served on boards, who believe our positional statements, only you who are enough.
Rather, he lifted the elements, looked around the room, and said, ‘Come and eat…all of you.’
The children were the first ones there, stacked in lines, grabbing large pieces of bread and double-dunking into the cup, fingertips stained purple, faces lit and turned toward parents showing off their prize before gobbling it down.
I joined behind them.
I tore off a piece of the bread.
The body of Christ broken for you…
For the orphaned, the widowed, the perfectionist, the addicted, the liberal, the conservative…
I dipped it into cup.
The blood of Christ shed for you…
For the foreigner, the outcast, the barren, the estranged, the unemployed…
I walked back to my seat, seeing the church unfold into a collaborative, disruptive space of conversation and catch-ups as the music started again. Children and adults continued to line up and those words took on their peaceful meaning.
The body of Christ broken for me…
The blood of Christ shed for us…
You, who are enough in me, come and eat…