Communion has tied together the majority of Christian churches since the first century, but no where else in our world has it been done quite like it is at Webster Presbyterian Church, home of the annual Lunar Communion.
Last Sunday was the congregation’s 50th observance of what began at Tranquility Base in 1969 when church elder and the second man to walk on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, consumed the first food and drink enjoyed on another world.
It wasn’t a meal, but a private communion shared with this church with elements blessed and brought from the Terra Firma of south Texas.
Dr. Tom Tucker has been at the church since 1964. He was involved with the approval of Aldrin’s semi-secret mission. Why was it somewhat covert? The contentious and litigious history of atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair had NASA bigwigs on edge. One more breath of scripture on their public radio link and she’d see them in court. Again.
“I was on the session (Presbyterian leadership council) that authorized Aldrin,” Tucker said. “And I served communion that Sunday, but we did not close that service with a benediction. After Buzz celebrated, we then closed the first Lunar Communion here with a formal benediction that next Sunday.”
As a sidenote, Tucker said that he was personally in charge of five of the then largest computers available, which were used to calculate the trajectories of Apollo 11’s lunar voyage.
“But Buzz could do all that in his head,” Tucker said.
Today, another astronaut, Clayton Anderson is preaching to a packed house. He began by offering Star Trek’s famous Vulcan salute and citing its fictional space traveler, James Tiberius Kirk in his opening prayer.
As Anderson holds forth, he is surrounded by stained glass images of galaxies, nebulae and other astronomical phenomena. There’s even a small bit of a meteorite embedded in the central window behind and above him.
A number of other astronauts have been members here: John Glenn, Roger Chaffee, Carlos Noriega, Jeffrey Carr, Jeff Ashby and Charles Bassett II.
So, if there’s a Protestant ‘cathedral’ to NASA, this is it.
When referring to that first sacrament on the moon, Aldrin wrote in his book, “No Dream Is Too High,” that he couldn’t think of any better way to thank God for Apollo 11.
Pat Forke has been keeping the church’s books for the last half-dozen years but attends another church, so this is her first experience with an out-of-this-world edition of the ancient Communion sacrament.
“I know that a lot of people put a lot of time putting this day together,” she said. “What a leap of faith it was for everybody to think of Buzz Aldrin, to know that God was there on the moon. Today was very moving, to think that we were doing what he did 50 years ago.”
On the other hand, member Kathy Braeuer has been to this service faithfully for four decades and counting.
“It was beyond my expectations,” she said. “You think it might become the same, but every time I hear the recording of Aldrin, it just feels tingly. And, I remember that John Glenn also preached for one of these special services.”
Webster Presbyterian Church was here before the Space Race was launched. In fact, it was here before the Wright brothers invented powered flight. Founded in 1894, it was one of the first congregations in north county. That was just a few years after James W. Webster brought a group of colonists to settle this area in 1879.
We’ll give the last word to current elder Allen Brown, who is one of many members still working in aerospace.
“I started working on the space shuttle and space station, but I’d never heard of the Lunar Communion before I brought my family here,” Brown said. “At work, I’d run into many astronauts, but you don’t talk about religion at work. Here, they are willing to open up and talk about their faith because they are among friends and family.”
Next week in Our Faith: Adventures in volunteering, part 2.