No doubt you’re familiar with World Communion Sunday. There’s a congregation southeast of Houston, Texas, that takes it one small step – or is that one giant leap? – further.
Each year on the Sunday closest to July 20, Webster Presbyterian Church commemorates the day when Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin, then a ruling elder at Webster Presbyterian Church, received communion on the moon as an act of thanksgiving.
Here’s an account from the church’s website, an excerpt from the church’s centennial history by Judith Haley Allton, Patricia M. Brackett, and Dana Ray. In Aldrin’s own words:
“I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements.
And so, just before I partook of the elements, I read the words which I had chosen to indicate our trust that as man probes into space we are in fact acting in Christ.
I sensed especially strongly my unity with our church back home, and with the Church everywhere.
I read: 'I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.'"
Of course, this was an extraordinary situation. Ordinarily, the proper context for communion is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s Day in the community of faith. It’s worth noting, though, how careful and intentional Aldrin was to connect this act with the communion of his home congregation – using a chalice provided by the church, consulting with the pastor, and receiving dispensation from the presbytery. (Thanks to Webster Presbyterian Church pastor Mark Cooper for this information.) This wasn’t “private communion,” but, as Aldrin so eloquently put it, an expression of “unity with our church back home, and with the Church everywhere,” through the connection of Christ the true vine. In a way, this extraordinary communion was an extension of what we now know as the Extended Serving of Communion.
Beyond taking the extended serving of communion to new heights, Aldrin’s simple act of gratitude is a stellar illustration of the “great” in the Great Thanksgiving, and of the cosmic scope of eucharistic celebration: giving our thanks and praise to the “Lord our God, creator and ruler of the universe” (Book of Common Worship Great Thanksgiving A). Indeed, as we sing with celestial choirs, “heaven and earth are full” of the glory of God. Hosanna in the highest!
Presbyterians (and specifically members of Webster Presbyterian Church) have made other significant contributions to the space program. Many are aware that astronaut and United States Senator John Glenn is a Presbyterian elder; his wife played the organ at the church in Webster. Another Webster Presbyterian Church member, Jerry Carr, was on the crew of the Skylab space station; for the duration of his mission, his family had a sign in their front yard counting the days until his return, with the letters K.O.S.P. (Keep Outer Space Presbyterian). A member of the congregation also made the flag and plaque that mark the site of the first moon landing. (Thanks again to Mark Cooper for sharing these stories.)
This year’s Lunar Communion service will take place at Webster Presbyterian Church on July 17. We celebrate with them, as the Church in every place is united at the table of the Lord.
Grace and peace,
David Gambrell, Associate for Worship
Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)