CCC Blog

“The Bread Which we Break…”

At the close of my column in last week’s newsletter, I stated that when it comes to communion how we distribute the elements is less important than that the elements are distributed such that “all are fed.”  Something similar can be said about the bread we eat in the communion meal.  There is no “right” kind of bread to serve, though individual congregations certainly have their preference.  Some serve thin wafers the size of a half dollar.  Others, like ours, offers smaller and harder pieces that more resemble pellets of bread. 

Our primary founder, Alexander Campbell, believed that something called “the fraction” was important during communion. This referred to the practice of serving people from one single loaf that was broken during the communion  service.  For instance, as the words of institution were being spoken (“and Jesus took the bread, blessed it, and broke it), the bread was actually broken at that moment.  Thereafter, participants would eat a small portion from that original bread broken in the service.  This practice of “fraction” (the bread broken into fractions) held theological significance for Campbell.  It represented the one body of Jesus Christ, “broken” in death on the cross.  Moreover, it simultaneously represented individual members becoming the one body of Christ (the church) through the sharing of one single faith in Jesus Christ.

I was not made aware of this theological significance as a child growing up in a Disciples of Christ congregation.  Rather it wasn’t until graduate school that I studied these matters more closely.  Yet my home church did practice “the    fraction” every week in worship, even without naming it as such.  Ours was a small church and members would take turns supplying the bread for the communion meal.  The bread was nearly always homemade and the bread baker’s name for that week was printed in the bulletin.  My sisters and I would eagerly open the bulletin upon coming to church to see whose turn it was to bring the communion bread.  I’m sure we were less than kind with our comments if it was a member who was known to bring an “obscure” bread choice (like rye or some kind of multi-grain option, which to a child’s taste buds, was not that appealing).

My mother, of course, took her turn.  Every Monday growing up, my mom baked bread.  Hers was a sourdough recipe that used a sourdough culture dating back to a woman from Kansas in the late 19th century.  True story.  When my mom received the sample culture that forms the basis of sourdough bread, she received the story of its origin that went with it.  And the story stated that a woman began that culture, from which my mother’s was eventually spawned, in Kansas in the 1870s.  Every so often mom would “feed” the culture, sitting in a big glass jar in the back of the fridge and on Mondays she would take a small portion for that week’s batch of bread.  Mom always baked bread in the traditional rectangular-shaped pans, but there was one round pan that she only used for Sunday’s communion bread.  It was about half the size of a pie plate and I remember mom place that in a plastic bag, wrapping a twist tie around the end and setting in on top of the bible that she brought with her. 

Since I first began receiving communion as a baptized believer in my home  congregation, I have had all sorts of communion bread.  The same can of said of the three churches I have served as pastor.  And all these years later I continue to believe that was introduced to me at an early age.  It doesn’t matter what kind of bread is used, only that bread is used in worship.  For bread, in whatever form or shape it comes, has a way of connecting us historically, throughout time, to our ancestors, and laterally, to one another, who partake of that same bread with us.

Blessings – Michael


Posted by Michael Karunas with

Servant Leadership: Deacons

In worship this past Sunday, we looked at the story of the first Deacons (Acts 6:1-7). In the Greek language of the New Testament, the word “deacon” (diakonia) means “to serve.”  While the Apostles tended to the “spiritual food” (the Word of God), making sure the study of the Word was not neglected, the Deacons were tasked with making sure that all were fed with physical (literal) food; that none were neglected nor excluded.  Where we see the distinctive role of Deacon best in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) today is during communion.  Elders occupy the role of Apostle, speaking words about the spiritual significance of the bread we eat.  And Deacons make sure that all are fed.  They distribute the literal bread among the people.

At our traditional services at Central, deacons serve trays of bread and grape juice to people among the pews.  They then serve one another along the pew,  except on Christmas Eve and Ash Wednesday when, like at our weekly 9:00  contemporary service, we serve by “intinction.”  This is a Latin word that means “to dip into.”  At these times, members come forward and dip bread into a cup of juice before partaking of it.  But there really isn’t a “right” way to do it.

Our ancestors, Presbyterians in Scotland, served communion 4 times a year.  That tradition carried over to Colonial America where the August communion celebration (after the planting and before the harvest) grew to be huge, outdoor, festive affairs.  Multiple congregations came together and sat at long tables, where the bread and cup would be passed down the long rows.

When the Disciples of Christ split from the Presbyterians, we carried some of those practices with us.  One of our founders, Alexander Campbell, in his book The Christian System published in 1835, noted that some congregations invited congregants to the front of the church in groups, where they sat at an actual table and passed the bread and cup, as if to replicate those August outdoor  services. 

Campbell, who was our most influential founder, came to believe that the best way to serve communion was to pass the elements to one another in the pews.  Each congregant, in serving his/her neighbor the bread and cup, conveyed to them, “You are a Disciple of Christ (my brother/sister).  As Christ embraces you in his arms, so I do in mine.” 

For many Disciples, coming forward for communion looked “too Catholic” and therefore was resisted.  But in recent decades, there has been a trend toward the orthodox and Disciples are becoming less biased toward practices that were once conceived as “too Catholic.”  Serving communion by intinction is quite pragmatic from a planning standpoint (it requires less overhead to implement) and pragmatism is, not coincidentally, a cornerstone Disciples value.  Moreover, there is something powerfully intimate and personal about receiving communion, one-on-one, or dispensing it and hearing (or reciting) the words “This is the body of Christ, broken for you.  This is blood of Christ, shed for your salvation.” However we distribute the elements in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), it is far more important that we do it than how.   

Blessings – Michael


Posted by Michael Karunas with