NASA Kept the Lunar Communion Under Wraps
At the time, NASA asked Aldrin not to advertise the fact that he would be partaking in communion on the moon. NASA was in the middle of a legal battle related to the actions of the Apollo 8 crew. During the Apollo 8 mission (which was significant for being the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon) astronauts read from the book of Genesis as a watching world tuned into their broadcast. Astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders were given no instruction from NASA about what to say as they broadcast their updates to the public. The crew determined a passage from Genesis describing the creation narrative would be appropriate because it represented the foundation of “many of the world’s religions,” not just Christianity.
However, some took issue with the reading, arguing that as government employees operating in an official capacity, the astronauts had blurred the lines between church and state. Atheist leader Madalyn Murray O’Hair filed a lawsuit against NASA a few months before Apollo 11’s launch. The suit was dismissed, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal. Still, NASA exercised caution by not mentioning Aldrin’s actions in the lunar module.
Years later, Aldrin wrote in his memoir he might have chosen a different symbol if he were to do things all over again:
Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind—be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists. But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God.
Other Astronauts Attended Webster Church
Aldrin wasn’t the only astronaut to attend Webster Church. Rev. Helen DeLeon, the associate pastor of Webster Church, told ChurchLeaders the following people were active members during their service with NASA: John Glenn, Buzz Aldrin, Jerry Carr, Charlie Bassett, Roger Chaffee, Jeffrey Ashby, Carlos Noriega, and Clayton Anderson.
Besides Aldrin, another member of the church had a personal touchpoint to the Apollo 11 mission. NASA engineer Jack Kinzler designed the flag that Armstrong and Aldrin placed on the moon during their mission. The flag had to be specially designed due to the fact that the moon’s atmosphere is very different compared to our own; consequently, there would not be enough air to assist the flag in unfurling like we are accustomed to seeing here on Earth.
Every year since 1969, Webster Church has celebrated a special occasion called Lunar Communion Sunday. It occurs each year on the Sunday closest to the July 20th anniversary of the lunar landing. This year, the celebration will be held on July 21, 2019.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary, retired NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson will join in the church’s celebration. Anderson, aged 60, spent 30 years working for NASA and was a member of the Expedition 15 crew. Clayton spent 152 days onboard the International Space Station in 2007.
In addition to Clayton’s guest preaching, the chalice Aldrin used during his trip to the moon will be on display this weekend at Webster Church. The church is expecting about 400 people in attendance.
Pastor DeLeon says the church is “humbled and privileged to be a part of such noble endeavors.” For the church and its members, science is a means to discover more about God and his creation. “God continues to reveal the mysteries of the universe through the intelligence and inquiring minds with which we have been gifted,” DeLeon said.