“We’ll be saying to people:’Look around. There’s probably someone here who voted for the other guy,’” said Justin Barringer, an editor who’s helping organize an ecumenical service at a homeless shelter in Lexington, Ky. “Yet you’re sitting here sharing the body and blood of Christ as you ought to.”
What began in 2008 at Springdale Mennonite Church in Waynesboro, Va., has now snowballed into a movement. Churches representing more than a dozen denominations will host evening services in 46 states. More than half of participating churches have signed on since Oct. 1.
The effort reflects the work of young pastors and lay people — many in their 20s and 30s — who’ve parlayed a $35 budget into a website: electiondaycommunion.org.
“Many, including Christians, are looking for ways to be involved in the public square that transcend the sour tone and brutal tactics,” said Jonathan Merritt, the 30-year-old author of “A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars.” Election Day Communion, he said, reflects the public’s dissatisfaction with government, political parties and movements such as Occupy and the Tea Party.
For organizers, Election Day is ideal for remembering the church’s nonpartisan mission: to bridge personal divides, refocus allegiance to God (not party) and work for justice beyond the ballot box. But whether the goal is to restore a church corrupted by partisan politics, or help mend a torn nation, will depend on local interpretation.
Congregations are warming to the event at a time when many long for new types of relationships between religion and politics. Some 60 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents say houses of worship should keep out of political matters, up from less than 50 percent for both groups in 2000, according to a Pew Research Center survey released earlier this year. Forty-four percent of Republicans agree.
The movement has gained traction in political battlegrounds — Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia — that have relatively large populations of Mennonites, who shunned politics as recently as 50 years ago.
Some states where the religious right is strong, such as Mississippi and Utah, currently have no Election Day Communion services planned.
When the faithful come together on election night, they’ll begin with confession, as is customary for Communion services. This time, however, the list of sins will include political ones. At Staunton Mennonite Church in Staunton, Va., Pastor Kevin Gasser plans to call for repentance of “political idolatry, excessive partisanship and our divisive nature.”