During my days in grad school at Notre Dame I had the good fortune to be a member of Broadway Christian Parish in South Bend, Indiana. Under the leadership of a series of remarkable pastors beginning in the late 1970s, this United Methodist congregation decided to celebrate the Eucharist every week in its one Sunday service.

Those who are not United Methodist, or have not been United Methodist at some point in their lives, may not be able fully to understand just how radical and courageous a decision that was.  For not a few United Methodists, a weekly Eucharist was something “Catholic,” something very un-Methodist. Of course, such critics tended not to know that the original Methodist revival in the eighteenth century had been a Eucharistic revival as much as it was an “evangelical” revival.

For this congregation, restoring the weekly Sunday celebration of the Eucharist had as much to do with ethics as with liturgy. The congregation had existed since the teens of the twentieth century, and over the course of several decades the congregation’s neighborhood changed. Closures at the Studebaker auto factory had hit the residents hard. By the late 1960s what had been a middle-class neighborhood had become an area of inner-city poverty.

Unlike other mainline Protestant congregations at the time and later who responded to such change by moving to the suburbs, Broadway stayed in the neighborhood of its birth.

Accompanying the decision to restore the Sunday Eucharist was a decision to serve the residents of the neighborhood, members or not, as an ethical act flowing from the celebration of the Eucharist itself.

One of the several things this decision meant in practice was to begin a community meal to be held each Sunday after worship. This meal, prepared and served by members of the congregation, was to be open to anyone who wished to attend. As part of an extended period of theological reflection on the Eucharist and the life of the congregation, members decided that such a meal was a natural, even necessary, extension of the feast of the Eucharist. Receiving the body and blood of the Lord entailed going from the altar of the Eucharist to the altar of the poor (St John Chrysostom or St Basil the Great, I’m working from memory here).  The community meal was an act of love and service born of the experience of receiving Christ in the Eucharist.

I was privileged to share in this life, and I have to say that I have not found a Christian community like it since.  The closest I have come was an Orthodox parish in St. Petersburg, Russia, in which the theological renewal associated with the martyr Fr Alexander Men’ had taken root. Doubtless there are others; I would love to know of them. In much of mainline Protestantism in the United States, the liturgical movement was eclipsed eventually by the contemporary worship movement. Congregations like Broadway are still a tiny minority.

But although Broadway is in the minority everywhere, it still serves as an example for Christians of all traditions, one worth examining closely, emulating, and thanking G-d for.

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