Each Sunday morning our small congregation, a year-old church plant in an old church building, meets for breakfast before the worship service. We pride ourselves on our hospitality, and the fact that while other churches may serve coffee and donuts, we serve a full breakfast with eggs, waffles, bacon, and fruit amongst a variety of other breakfast favorites varying week by week.
We linger long over cups of coffee and hot cocoa as we share with each other stories of the week. Inevitably a toddler will run towards the hot plates, and a surrogate parent or grandparent will quickly run behind and grab the small chubby hands just before they reach danger. When visitors walk in our doors on any given Sunday, this is the scene they walk in on: a beautiful chaos.
Our church is multi-ethnic and intergenerational, so we are a beautiful mix of everyone. Often with far more children present than adults, there is a lot of noise, a lot of mess, and a lot of laughter.
Most Sundays my husband (affectionately referred to as the first lady), will play a song over our modest sound system, which is our signal to move from the breakfast area in the back of our sanctuary to take our seats towards the front. It signals the transition from the worship of communal breakfast, to the worship of corporate prayers, songs, and sermon. However, there are times we do something different.
Instead of transitioning to the seats positioned in rows, we stand up and pull our tables close together. It began to be affectionately referred to as “Table Church”. Each week one of our 8 year-old congregants bounds into our sanctuary and asks with large eyes and a hopeful voice “are we having table church this week Pastor Robbie?” It is her favorite.
Table Church does not vary much from our more traditional church services. We will often still sing, though we often sing less. I generally still share my sermon, or some variant of it. We still pray. At the end of the service we still receive The Eucharist, like we do every week. Yet, there is something distinctly different about doing all of those acts around the tables we ate breakfast at just moments ago.
There are often still coffee cups and salt and pepper shakers littering the tables. The transitions are more awkward as we have to send someone to bring the communion elements from the altar at the front of the sanctuary. Yet, there is something that happens around the table that doesn’t happen the same way when seated in rows in the front of the church. We look much more like a family, and for a little girl whose family unit is broken by incarceration and custody battles, there is something comforting about sitting at this elongated table together.
When we receive the Eucharist here, the congregants do not rise and come to me, but we pass the elements to one another around the tables. One week, a 16 year old special needs congregant actually received the bread and dipped it into the cup twice while sitting at the table, I was unable to stop her, as she reached for the third time her brother said “I think you have had enough communion this morning.” I smiled with tears welling behind my eyes, because I think in those moments I realized how we hadn’t had enough communion.
We had received these elements of grace in the bread and the cup, but they were only part of the means of grace in those moments. The table of communion was not relegated to those few moments of liturgy at the end of service, our entire service had become a liturgy of the Eucharistic table. A table that invited all ages and all ethnicities to sit and partake of the deep and wide grace of God. A grace present in messy fingers, in off-key songs, in awkward transitions, in syrup poured on waffles and pancakes, in stories of the work week, in children’s books read to any adult who will take the time to listen, in chasing toddlers to keep them from escaping, in reciting the mystery of faith ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again’, in dipping bread into cup. There is a grace in and through all of it, a grace of communion. A foretaste of the banquet feast to come.
It is here at the table that we discover Church, the body and blood of Christ. It is here that we consume of the body and blood in the sacrament, but that we also are consumed by the body and blood of Christ, to be for the world, to be for one another, the body and blood of Christ. It is at this table, that we become the Church, through communion, for we are and always will be a table church, and I don’t think we can ever have enough.
Robbie Cansler is Pastor of the Mission Church in Hammond, Indiana.