The political season is a time of division, and Christians are not immune. Followers of Jesus can be found at every point on the political spectrum, with many invoking their faith as a rationale for their views.
The point of the event, clergy participating in it say, is for Christians to set aside political differences and remember common spiritual bonds. One ritual all Christian denominations share, despite some differences over its meaning and practice, is communion, the sacrament in which consecrated bread and wine are consumed in memory of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
“I know people get so tired of all the bickering and mudslinging; it’s been long and tiring,” said the Rev. Ian Lynch, pastor of the First Congregational Church of Brimfield. “What better way to do that than to come together, put aside everything, and say, ‘We’re all one people.’ ”
The Rev. Laura Everett — executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, which is promoting the event on its Facebook page — will be a guest preacher at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Longmeadow.
“We will get together and pray for our country, whatever happens,” she said. “And we will share communion, which is this wonderful unifying sign — and ancient sign — of where our ultimate belonging is.”
The idea for Election Day Communion originated with a Mennonite pastor, the Rev. Mark Schloneger, who tried it in his Waynesboro, Va., church on Election Day in 2008.
Schloneger said he watched with escalating concern the rising intensity of passions around the presidential campaign. He worried about the onslaught of political advertising that asked people to place their hope for the future in a particular candidate or platform and that sought to incite fear of the other side. It was not just his congregants he was worried about; he could feel himself getting caught up in the gamesmanship of the race.
“Why I was calling people to communion wasn’t only for other people, but myself,” he said. “I needed an opportunity to celebrate the unity that we have in Christ, but also an opportunity to reaffirm my allegiance to Christ.”
Schloneger, who moved to a new church in Indiana in August, thought the idea might catch on elsewhere. He asked a Mennonite pastor from Virginia to help him with the website, electiondaycommunion.org. A lay Episcopalian from Michigan saw it and wanted to help.
Word spread on Facebook, Twitter, and by word of mouth; in recent weeks, the effort went viral. By Monday night, 835 churches had signed up, at least one in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Among the congregations in Massachusetts are First Lutheran Church in Malden and St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church in West Roxbury.
The Rev. Cheryl Meachen of First United Methodist Church in Brattleboro, learned about the effort on Facebook and immediately saw its appeal. Her town is bombarded with political ads because of its proximity to New Hampshire, a swing state. “I happen to live in a household where I am in one party and my husband is of another, and so we experience a little bit of tension around this time,” she added with a laugh. “And the church does, too.”
People wanted to do more than just complain and wait till it was all finally over, she said. “It’s not just, ‘We’re tired of it,’ but, ‘We want to come together.’ ”
Most of the services are being held between 6 and 8 p.m., ending just in time for the most tension-filled moments of the election cycle.
“What I’m hoping to do is set context for receiving those results and for what happens as our faith community gathers in the days after the sixth,” said the Rev. Joel Anderle, pastor of Community Covenant Church in Peabody and president of the board of directors of the Massachusetts Council of Churches. “To try to remind folks that politics is really important, and it’s important to recognize that it can divide us. And yet that shouldn’t be the core of who we are.”