A communion of pain and purpose
Partaking of the elements never tasted so bittersweet. | Jason Lin/THE CHIMES
Tradition is a big deal at Biola. Every fall, students are invited to participate in the long-standing ritual of taking communion to kickstart the year.
A melancholy gladness.
However, the final departure of parents also occurs following the ceremony, an unfortunate, poorly-timed and unscheduled event often overlooked in the welcome week itinerary. This being said, SOS leaders and alumni alike try their best to prepare freshman for the tidal wave of emotion to come.
Hannah McLaughlin, freshman art major, began preparing herself for the emotionally-charged night years ago when her brother came to Biola and partook of communion his freshman year. Her parents decided not to attend the ceremony a second time, partly due to their close proximity to the school.
“I heard it’s just super amazing and a really cool way of saying goodbye to your parents and starting the year at Biola. I’m sure it will be cool,” McLaughlin said. “I heard that it’s super emotional, that parents cry a lot. Someone told me once that it was the first time they ever saw their dad cry.”
The fear of separating from parents can overwhelm even the strongest freshmen, but many returning students recall the night with joy. Lauren Morford, sophomore english major, remembers her first Biola communion service with a melancholy gladness.
“I cried so much and it was such a great family experience,” Morford said. “It was a good cry, because they were about to leave me so it was like a last spiritual thing to have together before they left, a great last family time.”
Communion sparks controversy
Much about the communion service sparks controversy in small corners of the Biola community, joining a larger conversation about how the universal church should treat the holy communion in general. The question arises that Biola may be attempting to exist as a local church entity, and thus find justification for offering corporate communion to students.
Responses to this question are nearly unanimous — students and faculty alike believe Biola has the right to perform the ceremony. Jeremy MacDonald, sophomore bible major, stressed the biblical significance of every gathered body of Christ participating in the tradition of communion.
“Biola’s not seeking to be the church or replace the church. And they are seeking to have Christ-centered community. And the practice of communion is one thing that I think they do in order to seek that. Communion is for us to remember what Christ has done, and to center our lives around Christ, and to refocus around him. And that’s something that we, as the body of Christ, should be practicing,” MacDonald said.
The local church, more often than not, seeks to provide intimacy within their respective congregational bodies through communion. Because of this, many Christians believe the practice should only ever ensue in the context of a local church service.
“We do it at church normally, which is good and wonderful but can be practiced outside of a typical church service. And I think it’s okay for Biola to do that if Biola is not seeking to replace or become the church, which it isn’t,” MacDonald said.
Importantly, the tradition of taking communion once a year during welcome week represents what Biola president Barry Corey calls “pitching your tent temporarily.” Biola students and staff alike feel an obligation toward supporting one another in more than schoolwork alone — spiritual guidance cannot be underestimated in a community devoted to such traditions as the Holy Communion. Dean of Spiritual Development Todd Pickett adamantly defends Biola’s choice of taking corporate communion.
Church with the big C
“Biola is not the local church. But it is the Church with the big C. Anywhere where believers are gathered, if they’re genuine believers, you have the Church. So I think it roots us as a community in the gospel,” Pickett said.
While the Lord’s Supper, described in Luke 22:7-23, faces differing interpretations amidst the faculty of Biola, according to Pickett, they respond unified apropos the institutionalized practice.
“Welcome week is a time when we are certainly drawing in new students, freshman and transfers from many different places and we’re celebrating what we have in common. And we are an institution that is rooted in the gospel. So it is both appropriate as a unifying practice and as a statement that the gospel, represented by this practice, is our foundation,” Pickett said.
Keeping students from taking communion can only be justified in the case of disingenuous faith, not location or church status. This disqualifying notion Pickett presents cannot be regulated by Biola, and should not be sacrificed based on a minority’s nonexistent feedback, in his opinion.
“I think we need to err on the side of an inclusiveness that brings people together rather than separates them, again, so long as they are genuine believers in this practice,” Pickett said. “The gains from Christians together remembering the cross through the Lord’s supper and the unity and inclusiveness that offered outweighs the potential disagreements.”