The Third Cup

23 02 2011

By HOWARD SHEEHY,Independence, Missouri, USA

Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, recently received the Community of Christ International Peace Award at the Peace Colloquy in the Temple. He took the book’s title from a social tradition practiced widely in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

When a “stranger” visits a home, as an act of hospitality the host offers one cup of tea. When a “friend” visits a home, the host offers two cups of tea to honor the status with that family. If the visitor is a family member or a highly trusted friend, the host offers three cups of tea.

For most of my life, when “strangers” visited our congregations, they received one cup of tea. We greeted them with friendliness and invited them to return.

But if they stayed around long enough, someone would need to tell them we practiced “close Communion.” And they would not be welcome to join in that sacrament because it held a special meaning for us. Most strangers missed the nuance of being “close” and viewed us as practicing “closed Communion.”

At the 1994 World Conference, delegates considered a resolution to allow other Christians to take the Lord’s Supper with us. It was one of the few times delegates did not sort things out well. They finished the day with an action the First Presidency did not feel it could live with.

We spent the dinner hour working together on a substitute resolution to present the following day. In essence we decided we were not changing the doctrine of the church. We simply were allowing other Christians to bring their own meanings to the Lord’s table and share in the sacrament service. With that, we began to offer our “friends” two cups of tea.

Doctrine and Covenants 164, approved by the 2010 World Conference, allows some people to become Community of Christ members without being baptized again, contrary to our tradition from the beginning. We now are willing to welcome into our fellowship other Christians while recognizing their previous experiences of membership in other denominations. They will be part of our family, and we finally will serve three cups of tea.

Another “formula” for peacebuilding discussed by Mortenson is to “listen, respect, and honor.” We need to allow our new friends to tell their stories—to listen to what their earlier commitment to the Christ meant to them. We need to accept those stories and how they blessed them.

If we can free ourselves of concern for mechanics, forms, and long-held traditions in other faiths, we will honor who they are and know they are family and trusted friends. The mural of the sacraments in the Temple Chapel teaches us that while the Doctrine is the duty of World Church leadership, the Covenants, or sacraments, have been globalized. They will come under the administration and authority of the local pastor and the congregation.


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