Last Supper for the Dying Church


A liberally progressive church in the city invited me to speak as a representative of “naturalistic freethinkers.”

Since I write and teach about “wild spirituality,” this was. . .natural for me.

When I arrived I was warmly welcomed by the tattooed music director, a young “neighborhood Chaplain” sipping a beer (from the memorial celebration just before the service), and the smiling pastor in her long white robe.  They made sure I found a cup of Earl Grey and had a seat in the circle by the pastor.

We sang some lively hymns accompanied by a beautiful guitar and peppy piano.

I spoke on “Nature and Wonder:  Secular Spirituality,” quoting Carl Sagan, John Burroughs and Frances Wright.  A really delightful time for questions showed that people were quite curious about non-believing, freethinking, issues of truth and raising children to think for themselves by choosing from alternatives.   They laughed that I prefer not to use “the A-word” and nodded when I explained I choose not to live my life identified with negativity. . .that I am not anti-religious, anti-believer.

And then came the Body and the Blood, Eucharist, Communion, the Last Supper.

I asked the pastor before the service how they handled people who chose not to take the “elements.”  She good-naturedly said that was fine and that not everyone in the congregation went up to receive Communion.

It WAS fine.  No pressure.  No accusing glances.  The familiar “Invitation to the Table” was spoken, but not with a tone of false piety or somber sappy sweetness.  Funny thing is, I almost went forward!  They were so welcoming and inclusive and loose about it.  I know I would not have been judged for not believing the bread was anything but bread and the wine was anything but wine.  But, I chose to sit and smile and wait for the end.

As a former Christian Minister, I’ve led many communion services over the years.  As an Interfaith Chaplain I led a whole lot of “community meals” that were wildly inclusive, among people of many faiths and who-knows-what-they-believe.  Now, as a non-believer among believers, I reflected on the Non-Supernatural meaning of this ritual.  I thought how diverse people sharing a “meal” could, if they really wanted to, put aside differences of opinion and simply enjoy being together.  Maybe it would lead to working together, regardless of faith or no faith.  Sure, mention Jesus, but let go of all the artificial add-ons and theo-mythology!

I suppose this experience renewed my hope in small circles of human beings, people who have the good intention to be good and do good in their neighborhood, their world.  Yes, I would do away with the distracting and divisive God-language, but even with a little of that, there is potential for “community” to grow, inch by inch, row by row.

Postscript:  One person told me privately that the church was “dying.”  They are attempting to create a community center, while based in their religious tradition.  I cautiously supported that idea, suggesting they consider letting go of some of the religious icons so more people would feel they are entering a safe space where they won’t be Faithenized.

I could almost imagine these small communities might welcome more of us who are former Insiders, to help in the transition of the dying church into. . .Something Better!

Maybe, just maybe, Freethinkers could Save the Church (from itself)! 


6 thoughts on “Last Supper for the Dying Church

  1. My father, a Lutheran, always told me that to take communion without the proper penitent frame of mind was “toasting to your own damnation.” Since I left the faith I’ve tried to avoid church activities that require me to profess belief in God. I generally feel it’s more respectful to quietly watch while the Christians do their thing. I think that left some people wondering when I didn’t go for communion when my niece was confirmed. I definitely got some looks but nobody said anything to me.

    1. Thanks, Stan. Maybe observing and reflecting offers a model and an invitation, esp to younger ones, to pay more attention and ask more questions. Many of us have “supper stories” to tell.

  2. The church is dying. It will take a long time for it to die out, and it will probably morph into something else altogether before it ever dies completely. Religion usually molds itself to the society it resides in or dies.

  3. I used to go to a Catholic school and always sat out the Eucharist as a kind of respect. But I went to a catholic funeral recently and the priest behaved so badly that I felt like I sat there out of protest.

    There are some welcoming faith groups out there, but this one abused his power over the bodies of our dead in order to berate those who would,otherwise, have nothing to do with the church. I look forward to more non faith and multi faith ceremonies.

    1. I would imagine many of us have similar stories. Respect needs to go both ways, doesn’t it? I also look forward to more actual inclusive gatherings and celebrations. They are possible and happen in some places, but rarely enough. Thanks, Siobhan.

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