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What does World Communion Sunday help us do?

Bishops from the US and central conferences stand around the circular communion table of General Conference to lead those gathered in the Great Thanksgiving.
Bishops from the US and central conferences stand around the circular communion table of General Conference to lead those gathered in the Great Thanksgiving.
World Communion Sunday is an annual opportunity for United Methodists to call attention to the unity of all Christians at the table of the Lord, and to raise funds to support United Methodist students in the United States and worldwide. 

This annual observance on the first Sunday in October has never been an occasion on which all Christians around the world agreed to celebrate communion on the same Sunday. 

Worldwide Communion Sunday (as it was originally called) began in earnest in 1940 as a program of the Federal Council of Churches in the United States to find one Sunday on which at least some of its member denominations would be willing to agree to encourage their congregations to celebrate communion. Some of those denominations, including Methodists, Congregationalists, Northern Baptists, and Presbyterians, also had churches outside the United States as part of their missionary efforts. Lutherans and Episcopalians were never part of this observance.

So, why was finding one Sunday on which several denominations would celebrate communion considered important in 1940? Because at the time, that would have been difficult to coordinate. Most American Protestants celebrated communion quarterly well into the middle of the 20th century, but their observances were not coordinated with each other, nor even within their own denominations. Finding a single Sunday in the year when several Protestant denominations would agree to urge all of their congregation to celebrate communion was a significant sign of Christian unity at a time in American history of much disunity, lingering effects of an economic depression, and renewed strife over civil rights, all just a year prior to America's entrance into World War II. 

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In the intervening years, the original impetus for observing this day has become less relevant. Nearly all mainline Protestant denominations, including United Methodists, celebrate communion at least monthly, usually on the first Sunday of the month, with an increasing move toward weekly celebration. In churches that celebrate communion weekly, one can say every Sunday is, in effect, World Communion Sunday. 

The various denominations who have continued to support World Communion Sunday have found this observance helpful for calling attention to particular denominational emphases and fundraising to support them. The United Methodist Church and our predecessor denominations have a long tradition of creating and supporting educational institutions, especially colleges, universities, and seminaries, in the United States and worldwide. This goes back to John Wesley himself, who founded Kingswood School in Bath, England, as a means of providing an education for the children of Methodist preachers and leaders, most of whom did not have the resources to send their children to school otherwise.

The funds raised by the World Communion Sunday offering in United Methodist churches continue Wesley's mission of supporting the formation and education of Christian leaders in all walks of life, all around the world, especially those who may be least able to afford a university education. Half of the funds raised go to support the World Communion Scholarships offered through the General Board of Global Ministries. The other half go to support the Ethnic Scholarship Program  (35%) and Ethnic In-Service Training Grants (15%) sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

So, while celebrating communion on the same Sunday as other Christians worldwide has become more common, this Special Sunday now reminds United Methodists not to take the gift of this sacrament for granted, and to support the formation of leaders who help to "make us one with Christ, one with each other and one in ministry to all the world." 

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