In a number of denominations the First Sunday of October is observed as World Communion Sunday. World Communion Sunday originated in 1933 through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In 1940, the National Council of Churches (U.S.A.) helped to make this day ecumenical and later the World Council of Churches helped to make it worldwide so now many other denominations all over the world celebrate communion on the first Sunday in October during worship. We are reminded today of others who believe in Christ throughout the whole world as we pray for all God`s people and pray that we can work co-operatively with each other in areas of mission and service. On this day we celebrate our oneness in Christ in the midst of the world we are called to serve. World Communion Sunday is a call for all Christians – of whatever background – and of whatever theological tradition – to recollect that we are in fact one in Christ – and that the table we receive from and communion at is God’s table – not our own.
How did World Communion Sunday begin? 1933 was the darkest year of the Great Depression. The storm clouds of Nazism and Fascism hovered all over Europe and threatened the entire world. The prevailing mood was anxiety—fear about economics, fear about politics and fear about the future.
As a faith response to the fears of three generations ago, in 1933, the pastor and a group of leaders on the Stewardship Committee at Shadyside Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, U.S.A,. sought to do something both real and symbolic, to proclaim that God is God indeed, in spite of politics, economics and future shock.
How, they wondered, might one church counteract the pessimism of the larger society? How might they succeed in eliminating the walls of separation between Christians? Their pastor, Dr Kerr had an idea of a a service of Christian unity—in which everyone might receive both inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the Church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.
Dr. Kerr had begun his pastorate at Shadyside in 1913. He served there for thirty-two years, until 1945. Dr. Kerr was nationally recognized as a gifted preacher and pastor and author of over 20 books. He was also a civic leader in Pittsburgh. Every church with a radio or television ministry owes a debt of gratitude to Dr. Kerr, whose visionary understanding of the nascent radio industry led him to broadcast his Sunday morning sermons over the world’s first commercial radio station, KDKA Pittsburgh. These broadcasts became the vehicle for dissolving the walls of the sanctuary and sending the welcome good news of Christ into far-flung homes. Under Dr. Kerr’s leadership, the church’s worship services were the first, anywhere, to be broadcast by radio
When Donald Kerr was asked how the idea of World Communion Sunday spread from that first service to the world wide practice of today, this is what he replied,
“The concept spread very slowly at the start. People did not give it a whole lot of thought. It was during the Second World War that the spirit caught hold, because we were trying to hold the world together. World Wide Communion symbolized the effort to hold things together, in a spiritual sense. It emphasized that we are one in the Spirit and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The Church is one in the Spirit and one in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, although we may not display our unity clearly to the larger world. This is why World Communion Sunday is so vital to our shared witness and why we would be remiss to lose sight of its origins. It may seem incredible to some that such a far-reaching idea had its beginnings not simply in a committee, but a stewardship committee. However, we believe that Jesus is present where two or three or more will gather in His name. So, how can we be surprised by what the Living Christ can do even with the most prosaic of committee responsibilities?
Now, 77 years later, the dream of all of us gathering on one Sunday, around one table—the Lord’s Table—seems as much of an impossible dream as it did in 1933. We see the connections between individual believers, congregations and denominations stretched to the uttermost limits. Yet, when we all share the Meal where Christ is our Host, we are connected in ways that go beyond our personal preferences, or theological scuffles, as well as transcending boundaries of geography and language. What we find on World Communion Sunday is a dissolving of those things that might hurt or divide us. Around His Table together, we broadcast our faith to the world and say, “Come and dine; there is room for all!”