Congregants at Llyswen United Methodist Church of Altoona look forward to something special every Sunday morning. Unlike many Methodist churches, they know their service will end with Holy Communion.
The Rev. Charles Baughman, pastor of Llyswen, said they have weekly Holy Communion for theological and traditional reasons.
"John Wesley insisted that the celebration of the Eucharist should be central to every worship service," Baughman said.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) Participating in Holy Communion at Llyswen United Methodist Church are (from left) Shirley and Tom Klevan of Hollidaysburg and Joyce Hess of Altoona with Pastor Charles Baughman offering the bread and Polly Mickel of Altoona, the cup.
Wesley founded Methodism in the 19th century and after a time, many Methodist churches began having Holy Communion less frequently.
For centuries, teaching became more important than the sacraments, he said.
But Llyswen members believe the sermon is second to the sacrament.
"Worship is not listening to a boring preacher," Baughman said. "Worship is coming before God and expressing your love for his grace and the grace of Jesus Christ."
During the liturgical renewal movement of the last century, congregations returned to the worship practices of the early church.
In Llyswen's case, this involved placing Holy Communion at the center of the service after a lot of prayer and study.
"The education started long before we started taking weekly Communion," said Maury Martin of Altoona, who has attended Llyswen her whole life.
In the early 1980s, a core group from the congregation studied Scripture and the origins of Methodism.
In 1983, they agreed to start weekly Communion. They continue to be the only United Methodist Church in the Altoona District that does.
"It is central to our liturgical worship style," Baughman said. "It has become a main part of the church's identity.
"Communion is a sacrament in which the real presence of Christ is experienced in bread and wine," Baughman said.
"The congregation recognizes this mystery of the Eucharist," he said. "They encounter Christ in a unique way, and so it doesn't grow old for us.
"If I could have Sunday dinner every week with my [deceased] mother and father, would it cease to be special?" he said.
Patty Shaffer agrees. "It completes the purpose of what you're going to church for," she said. "You're going to the Lord's house, and you have dinner there."
"At the Communion table, it represents the core," Martin said, "because it represents that Christ gave us life."
"It's symbolic, but the [Holy Spirit] is alive and real" during the Eucharist, she said.
"The mystery that happens when you take Communion is just very, very powerful," she said.
Llyswen practices an open table.
"Everyone is welcome at the Lord's table, no matter how young you are," Shaffer said.
"All who are earnestly seeking to know the Christ are invited to receive this means of grace," Baughman said.
The imagery of one body and one church continues in the image of one loaf and one cup, he said. The Eucharist is a chance to reconnect with the disciples at the table every Sunday.
"It's wonderful to walk away from it each week knowing you broke bread together," Shaffer said.
"You're dining at the Lord's table every week."