Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Story of Table Church continues....

It’s been awhile since I have talked about Table Church- a grand experiment in community and worship at Holy Spirit. Each week during Lent, there was a different focus to the time together, but overall it was intended to be relaxed and open- porous, if you will. Easy to enter and exit. After the opening weeks of setting the tone, and then talking about fellowship of the table, we moved into weeks where we talked about praying together, confessing together, and some core understandings about communion together.

Each week I provided a jumping off point for those gathered to engage over the mealtime.

For example the week we discussed praying together, I amplified our usual prayer practice. Each week I handed out slips of paper to people and pens so that after we cleared the table we could spend time in prayer together based upon the concerns of the community. We would pass an offering plate and gather the prayers. Then I would take a moment and organize them around general themes of thanksgiving, the world, people in need, etc. We would open by singing the Taize song- “O Lord Hear my Prayer” three times and then I would pray the prayer and we would again sing at the end of the prayers and share together in the Lord’s Prayer. But one week, I asked groups of people to pick a person to pray the prayers of the group. Each group had been given a paper- one said “God, you are….” Another said “We thank you that…” Another said “ We ask that you…” The groups were asked to discuss the ways they would complete these as a way of opening up that prayer does not follow a rigid formula- it can be that simple. Then one person from each group read the prayer they had created as we prayed together.

In the week we talked about confession as being something we share in worship, but that in community we should be able to go to a sister or brother and ask for them to hear us and help us see God in situations, we opened with a common youth group ice breaker- “Two Truths and a Lie.” People were broken into four groups and each person was asked to state two true things and one not true thing about themselves but not say which was which and the group had to guess. This was interesting because many people struggled with what they were willing to say about themselves. This gets at the heart of a tension in community- the “me” we present and our worries about how we would be received. Some people were not so sure they would tell another person something in a moment of confession. Others were honest enough to say they were not sure they would really engage this with God. In my practice of the Examen,  I try to lift up both that we can come to God with these things and look for God’s work and guidance in them. Perhaps when we have those moments we accept that God loves us for the “us” we really are, we might then be more able to be Christ for someone else in their need.  Perhaps seeing another’s need, allows God to speak to us in ours.

One week I handed out different colored slips of paper as people were preparing to sit down, and asked that they sit with the other people who had that same color paper. This was a way to mix up the patterns of socializing. Being creatures of habit, we all tend to form groups, but then those groups start to be fixed. Once in the groups I asked each group to talk about what would make a dinner or a party- great? What makes a gathering a good one? People spent most of their time on the food and the decorations, and the theme. Not much time on the people. How fascinating to see a pattern we can experience in church. We spend a lot of time focusing upon the music, the flowers, the building, but not so much on the needs of people. But there was some conversation about people- we would invite friends and relatives. We might tell friends to bring others. But then one group said- well, not all the relatives- just the ones we like. And not just any friends- yeah.  As each group read their responses, this group went last. Their honesty got the group talking and knowingly laughing.

We don’t really want just anyone. So what does that say about communion- a meal and a celebration? Jesus is the host and the center of an amazing celebration in the Meal- how do we see it?

Some people chafed at the notion that communion is a celebration- it should be solemn and we should remember what Jesus did for us. Yes, but how is it also something we celebrate? This was food for thought too.

Our last week, I provided all of the food and just encouraged people to come. We talked about what the early Christians would have been eating, or not. We talked about how each week we had people who only got there when they could, not unlike the early church- and how we like the early church Paul writes to needed to make sure that all were being fed and drawn into the table. We talked about what it meant to really rub elbows together- I made sure the tables were set close- not like we might sit in church. After all our weeks together- how would it feel to hear- One of you will hand me over?  

In our earlier week, people had said for the sake of a party going well they would accommodate that there might be some foods they don’t like or music they don’t like or people they are not really fond of, because the most important thing was the party. What had we learned to adjust to accommodate the fact that we may not all like the same things, but were gathered around a central thing, a person- Jesus the Christ? 

I asked for feedback about the experience from those who had been regulars and the newcomers that night. The notion of gathering, blessing our bread and wine/grape juice, breaking the bread and sharing it, sharing a meal, and fellowship, studying together and praying together.

"It was relaxing." At the end of the day, people found more and more that while they came in with their stresses, they became relaxed.

As something we did week to week, people found some weeks they did not have time to prepare an elaborate thing to share for the meal, and it was still all OK.

It was a different way to worship- acoustic music, no bulletins, no printed music to figure out. But it felt like worship. It was open to strangers.  One person noted that more people would like it but might be intimidated because it was an unknown thing. Others agreed, and then the person said- "But I guess it’s up to us to be the messengers." Exactly!!

Then I invited people to consider that for those who have not been to church lately or maybe not really ever, that feeling of fear of the unknown- what is on the other side of the door- is the same. But we can be the messengers.

Another person suggested we continue this kind of worship at some level, perhaps once a month. When asked for thoughts, everyone else was in agreement. I explored what day or time would be best. Overwhelmingly the response was that Wednesday night was best- it was a kind of middle of the week refresher between Sundays.

So those of us who have gone on the grand adventure of trying a new thing, and making some tweaks on the way, are going to try another new thing starting in later in May.  

And as we prepared to end our time in prayer, someone commented that our time could be more intimate if the overhead lights were not so bright. If we just had the candles. A request for something more intimate!

I turned out the overheads lights so we could just have the candles. We ended our time at the table, with just the glow of the light of lots of tiny votives, and the cross, holding hands in prayer, and then singing:
Go now in peace.
Go now in peace.
May the love of God surround you.
May the love of God surround you.
Every where
You may go.
You may go.

Stay tuned…

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