World Communion Sunday is October 1. First adopted as a denominational practice in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.) in 1936, churches in other denominations were later invited to join. It wasn’t until 1940, when the Department of Evangelism of the Federal Council of Churches (a predecessor of the National Council of Churches) extended the celebration to several churches around the world, that the practice became widespread.
The idea originated with Dr. Hugh Thompson Kerr, pastor at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1933. Kerr first conceived the notion of World Communion Sunday during his year as moderator of the General Assembly in 1930. But this nascent idea came to fruition through the work of the Stewardship Committee at Shadyside. They dreamed of bringing churches together in a service of Christian unity to lift up the global Church and to remember that by virtue of our baptism, we are connected to a worldwide community. One congregation is connected to every other congregation, united in “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).
The vision gradually caught on in the denomination and with our ecumenical partners. Ecumenism only emerged after the First World War as churches struggled to respond to the devastating humanitarian and theological crisis brought on by the war. Dr. Kerr’s son, the Rev. Dr. Donald Craig Kerr (who was a pastor emeritus of the Roland Park Presbyterian Church in Baltimore), shares that “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 Sunday 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.”
Today, organized by the National Council of Churches, World Communion Sunday is celebrated worldwide, demonstrating that the church founded on Jesus Christ peacefully shares God-given goods in a world increasingly destabilized by global market economies based on greed. It is fitting that on this Sunday, we will receive one of the Special Offerings of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Peace and Global Witness Offering encourages congregations to address the anxiety and discord prevalent in a broken and fearful world. Twenty-five percent of what we receive will support the Dismantling Racism Committee’s ongoing work of peace, healing, and reconciliation in our community. Together, we make a difference. Let us gather around the Lord’s table and entrust our lives to the one who holds the world together, giving generously to the work and witness of Christ through the life of the Church.