Oh what an ignorant, self-absorbed musungu I am. I have listened to these pastors answering my probing questions and have stumbled upon an issue that seems obvious when I think about it now, but until now it has apparently existed beyond the end of my nose because I never thought about it before (I admit this somewhat sheepishly, considering I try to teach the Bible to these folks).

What would you do if you lived in rural poverty, mostly traded produce for services or other produce for a living, seldom ever held more than $2.50 at one time in your hand, were the pastor of a small rural congregation, and it came time to observe the Lord’s Supper in your church? For you, grapes are an unknown fruit – the only grape-juice related products here are imported, and so tend to be expensive. Besides that, since the fruit is virtually unknown indigenously, it is a stretch that you would even know about it. Wine, which is mentioned in the Bible, is expensive and has the additional negative that it is alcoholic in content, which is a cultural “no-no” among abamulokule here (born-agains). Apart from that, it is news to you when you hear for the first time from the musungu that the wine mentioned in the Bible and grape-juice are derived from the same fruit and so either  could be used for the Lord’s Supper, a fact that has never before been revealed.

So what would you do? You want to follow the Scripture. You want to want to obey the Spirit. Though, really, you as pastor are one of the few people in your village who has a Bible and can even read about the Lord’s Supper, so it is quite easy to simply ignore it because no one in your congregation will be asking about it if you don’t mention it. Many of the pastors looked back at me blankly at first when I asked the question, “Do you observe the Lord’s Supper in your church, and if so, how often?” Then with repeated prompts from the translator, there was often the “Oh, yeah, that…” reaction. On average, the churches that have existed a year or less are not sharing the communion supper at all. The ones that have existed 2-3 years may share it once to three times a year, maybe. Only one church of all the ones I’ve interviewed so far shared the Lord’s Supper as often as once a quarter, in that case, their overseer was an impressively organized man.

Now, considering the situation I have described with the grape juice, what elements would you use if you did want to share it with your new believers in your new church plant? The most common answer I received was bread purchased from the store – I see the logic of that, of course – and soda to represent the blood of Christ since it is easy to get and affordable.

Bob interviews an earnest female pastor deep in the rural villages of Mayuge District.

Wait…did I say soda? Yes – soda. I really tried to act nonchalant, but it sort of felt like my brain was jumping on the trampoline my grandkids erected in my back yard back in the U.S. when I first heard that. It wasn’t exactly shock – it was more like, how could I have missed this up until now? With calm and studied smoothness, I asked, “Oh, what kind of soda?” Really – it was the only question I could think of. Some use Coke. Some use Sprite, or even Fanta Orange. Some try for a more fruity blend in an attempt to pace the Scripture a little on this point – so they use a local blend soft drink, something called Marinda Fruity, which is a kind of super-sweet, carbonated berry punch soda, which, after getting myself down off the trampoline, actually seems to work pretty well, even for me.

One church actually throws all caution to the wind on this and uses altar wine, which is available for use by the Catholics and the Anglicans in some super-markets in the towns but is a bit expensive. We actually looked for altar wine today in Jinja to check out the cost, but were unable to find any. With this choice for the Lord’s Supper, a little goes a long way, and somehow they manage to get around the alcohol ban – they told me there wasn’t enough to get drunk on, so it didn’t matter, which was an uncharacteristically pragmatic way to look at it, I thought, considering the horrified looks I got from other pastors when I suggested it.

This pastor sat in the very early church planting seminars of 2013. He was so moved by God during that time that he surrendered to ministry, went to Bible School, and just last November planted a church. We are sitting at Pastor Waisana’s house in Bugembe because 1) he is Pastor Waisana’s son, and 2) his church is far out from the town, so he agreed to meet us “in town” while on business.

So I have digested all this by now and my shocked musungu-American sense of religious propriety has adjusted toward focusing on the spiritual theology of the Lord’s Supper – its symbolic value in remembering the Lord’s sacrifice of His body and blood. I am suddenly not so much focusing on the actual nature of the symbols used, as in, it must be wine or “fruit of the vine” and unleavened bread “just like the Scripture.” Whether you as a church-going Christian agree with me or not, I, at least, have landed on a much more generous view of the options for observing the Lord’s Supper than I have had before. I am realizing that it’s more important to observe the spirit of the celebration than to focus on having the correct “legal” elements. If a rural church can never afford to celebrate the Supper “correctly,” or, even if they could afford it, never has access to a store that sells the kind of wine or juice “required” by Western religious norms, should they just ignore the biblical teaching altogether?

So what would you do? Never observe the Lord’s Supper because of the difficulties I have mentioned, as many here choose to do? Sacrifice what could amount to 2 to 4 months total church offerings to make sure you had the “right” elements? Or would you, in the spirit of obedience, find some kind of alternate beverage to use, like soda, which is now available everywhere, even in the most isolated little market centers composed of a few rough shops, shanties and temporary kiosks formed around obscure road junctions out in the bush. We have even seen soda being sold in tiny wooden stands in the front yards of thatch-roofed African huts – it is almost everywhere – unlike grape-juice or wine.

What does this question do to your theology?

Advertisements