By Michael Gryboski , Christian Post Reporter
October 18, 2016|4:55 pm

Willow Creek Community church (Photo: Reuters/John Gress)

A parishioner cries as he signs a song of worship in the 7,000-seat Willow Creek Community church during a Sunday service in South Barrington, Illinois, November 20, 2005. Institutions like Willow Creek and Houston's Lakewood Church, each drawing 20,000 or more on a weekend, offer not just a vast, shared attraction but a path that tries to link individuals on a faith-sustaining one-to-one level beyond the crowd, observers and worshipers say.

Churches across the country will be holding communion services on election day this year as part of an ecumenical effort to combat the "spirit of divisiveness."

Known as Election Day Communion, the observance was first held in 2012 and had approximately 900 congregations from diverse denominations take part.

"We watched the rancor and bitterness of this election reach new highs (and new lows). We've seen that spirit of divisiveness seep into our communities, our neighborhoods, even our churches," stated the EDC's website.

"This year more than ever we need to remind ourselves where our true hope is found. We need to participate in holy acts of union and reconciliation. We need to declare our allegiance to Jesus, the prince of peace."

Donald Trump(Photo: Reuters/Jim Young)Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton shake hands at the end of their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., October 9, 2016.

The event is organized by the Peace and Justice Support Network, a ministry of the Mennonite Church USA's Mennonite Mission Network.

Jason Boone, coordinating minister for the Peace and Justice Support Network, told The Christian Post that the observance is centered on "the Church being the Church on election day, gathering at the Lord's table to remember, to practice, to give thanks for, and to proclaim its allegiance to Christ."

"Election Day Communion began in 2012 with a concern that Christians in the United States are being shaped more by the tactics and ideologies of political parties than by their identity in and allegiance to Jesus," said Boone.

"As this election cycle began to heat up, we heard from folks across the country asking if it was happening again. With the dynamics of this election being heightened compared to 2012, it was an easy decision to bring EDC back."

Boone also told CP that as of Tuesday, more than 100 churches have signed up and that number is increasing as Nov. 8 draws closer.

One of those congregations is Saint Matthias' Episcopal Church of East Aurora, New York, which took part in the Election Day Communion observance in 2012.

The Rev. Ann M. Tillman, rector at Saint Matthias' Episcopal, told CP that this year her church will have a local Presbyterian preacher give the sermon, as part of an effort to open "our doors to the whole community" with the goal being "to offer a sense of hope and healing, and a restored sense of unity and fellowship in the living Body of Christ."

"I am working hard to hold my congregation together in these weeks leading up to the election by reminding them that we are all God's beloved children and that we need to be praying for all of the candidates for office — even, perhaps especially, those with whom we disagree," said Tillman.

"I look forward to Election Day Communion as a means through which to remind us all that we have only one Savior, Jesus Christ, who brings us together as one and binds us together in His love, and that no political candidate of any sort or stripe can offer what He can."

Gum Spring United Methodist Church in Virginia is another church observing Election Day Communion this year, though unlike Saint Matthias this is their first time doing so.

Gum Spring UMC minister the Rev. Lauren Lobenhofer explained that she had overseen an Election Day Communion service at her former church, Bon Air United Methodist Church, in 2012.

"The service was a really powerful experience of God's presence in a chaotic and divisive time. I decided to bring the service to my present appointment, Gum Spring UMC, because it was such a meaningful worship experience in 2012," said Lobenhofer.

Lobenhofer told CP that she hopes "those who participate in the service on Nov. 8 will leave trusting that, no matter who is elected, our nation and our world still rest in God's hands."

"Our nation is deeply divided. Anger and vitriol are coming from everywhere on the political spectrum. The Church needs a way to remember that, no matter where we stand politically, we are one Body of Christ," continued Lobenhofer.

"Jesus invited disciples of different backgrounds to his table. They were fishermen and carpenters and zealots, but in breaking bread together they were one."

Follow Michael Gryboski on Facebook: michael.gryboski
Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter: MichaelGryboskiCP