Sunday, September 24, 2006

Liturgical Battles

This summer, I have had a unique privilege during the special pastors’ training. I have had the opportunity to be a part of creating the liturgy of a church. “Creating” may be too strong a word, since we didn’t really invent anything – but we did mold the unique shape of the liturgies of communion, baptism, and funerals which will be used in United Methodist churches in Cameroon for years to come.

This led to some extraordinary discussions, debates, and choices. For example, the pastors decided to use the entire basic liturgy for communion as found in the American Book of Worship, with one important addition – they liked the Prayer of Humble Access, which had been demoted by the most recent edition of the Book of Worship (and in the practice of most UMC’s in America these days), but is still in common use in Cote d’Ivoire.

There was also a spirited debate on whether the people should be allowed to say the words, “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven” to the pastor, after the prayer of confession and the words of pardon which are spoken by the pastor.

But the most heated exchange came on the age-old question – grape juice or real wine? I felt like I had slipped into a time-warp. Pastors Simeon Nomo and Bernard Mbehna led the charge in favor of grape juice. They are teetotalers themselves, and want the church to take a strong stand against alcohol, just as many Pentecostal churches already do in Cameroon.

Pastors David Sen and Victor Galous argued for good old red wine – if it was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for us. Victor even went to far as to say that, when juice is used, the spiritual effect of communion isn’t as powerful – he complained that the shock of tasting juice instead of wine would dampen spirits and disappoint the faith of Christians!

Bernard countered that Scripture only spoke of the “fruit of the vine,” not “wine” specifically. Galous shouted back, “But ‘fruit of the vine’ means wine!”

This went on for a few minutes until Professor Ohouo, who had been listening quietly in the back of the classroom, got up and made a careful sacramental distinction between the symbol and the meaning of the symbol.

But this didn’t quiet the pastors. On and on raged the argument, until we simply ran out of time. I couldn’t get consensus on what the common practice in Cameroon should be. In the end, I simply had to pull rank on everyone and make a decision on behalf of the Mission.

So if you come to Cameroon anytime soon and take a Communion service in a United Methodist Church, will you be served wine or grape juice? Hmmm, it all depends. Each pastor will be free to decide for him or herself what is best for the local church.

I know, it sounds like a cop-out. You probably want to know what I think.

Well, without being too dogmatic about it … I think I prefer a nice Bordeaux.