Things I am learning….Part II
by Rev. Ramsey Patton
So for part two of things I am learning from being in ministry with The Feast community, I would like to share some of my thoughts on grace. (I shared these reflections in paperwork I recently submitted to the Board of Ordained Ministry of the North Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.)
Most significantly, the practice of ministry with the special needs community has greatly deepened my appreciation of prevenient grace vis-à-vis the Sacraments. United Methodists understand prevenient grace as grace that is available to all humanity, precedes one’s consciousness, pulls one to God and into relationship with Christ.
I have had the privilege of baptizing babies, children, and adults, both “cognitively-abled” and “disabled” and have been consistently overwhelmed by the power of prevenient grace. God’s grace surpasses our understanding, works beyond our consciousness, and draws individuals to God. This reality not only allows individuals, regardless of age or cognitive ability, to enter into the covenantal relationship of baptism with God through Jesus Christ and into unity with Christ, other Christians, and the church, but also affirms and allows each individual to claim her/his identity as a beloved child of God.
Additionally, every Sunday at The Feast, we celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion. Each week I emphasize to the congregation the United Methodist practice of the open table, which is grounded in prevenient grace. Being able to invite all who seek Christ’s grace, repent of their sin, and seek to live in peace with God and one another to partake of the sacrament demonstrates and visibly illustrates God’s astounding grace and love for all. At The Feast, I consecrate the elements and members of the special needs community serve communion to the congregation. One faithful communion server, Max, passes bread to the congregation. Max is non-verbal and wheelchair-bound with extremely limited upper-body mobility. Nevertheless, Max offers the body of Christ to the congregation each week, reminding us that we are all children of God, made in the image of God, with equal value and worth.
Moreover, as our community partakes of the sacrament we glimpse the heavenly banquet, to which all are invited, welcome, and included. The sacrament equalizes us and demonstrates that -- whatever our cognitive or physical or other ability -- we are all in need of grace, we are all recipients of Christ’s grace, and we are all welcome and equal at Christ’s table.
Further, the sacrament serves as a way to rebuild relationship with God. One family that faithfully attends The Feast felt alienated from the church for years. They were unable to find a place to worship that was accepting of their daughter, Margaret, who has cognitive challenges. I have witnessed this family brought back into relationship with Christ and sustained in their faith through weekly communion, shared with them in an atmosphere where the gospel is practiced through the inclusiveness of grace. In a very real way, the ritual of Holy Communion served as a way for this family to become re-incorporated into the body of Christ.
God’s grace is so powerful – and it is everywhere! I am so grateful to be a part of a community that constantly reminds me of its abundance and welcomes me in.