Last summer the members of our worship commission, led by Eileen Viau, were planning for the fall and doing some reflection together. It was less about the monthly details and more of a “big picture” conversation about our identity as a worshiping congregation.
Worship is an expression, and the style of a congregation’s corporate worship can reflect the gifts and talents of the group. Among other things, we asked ourselves, “What are some of the gifts present within the Spring Mount congregation that God might want to use at this time?” And fairly quickly an experiment in doing church began to take shape.
In listening to church members, a sentiment that I heard voiced a number of times was “We should have more fellowship meals.” Those meals have always been a popular event–an atmosphere of comfort and fun. And our congregation is particularly good at facilitating ministry with meals. In the past we created worship and Bible study experiences that included a food element, such as an Anabaptist meal liturgy (with resources from our friend Stuart Murray Williams) and Saturday morning breakfast Bible studies. Every Sunday morning we enjoy an abundance of refreshments for fellowship time, coordinated by our dedicated hospitality team. Stacey Hallahan’s chocolate cake, Lorene Nyce’s monkey bread, and Ruth Reinford’s mango salsa are some of the best culinary treats you can find in the Perkiomen Valley (or anywhere else for that matter). If we were going to experiment with a new kind of ministry, it seemed natural to move in a direction involving food and hospitality.
Our conversation landed on the idea of creating a monthly Sunday morning meal liturgy. I believe Gay Brunt Miller first mentioned the name “Table Church,” which we liked and which certainly fit because this would be “church happening around tables.” Table Church is modeled after Jesus’ table practices and the gatherings of early Christians that we noticed in the New Testament (Acts 2:42). It is a potluck meal (everyone brings a brunch-type food) reminding us that we all participate in the church and each has something of value to share–no matter how big or small the contribution. We sit at round tables, facing one another, in an environment intended for conversation. A simple liturgy was created for this time to guide us as we eat, pray, share, laugh, and reflect on a Bible story together.
There is no sermon at Table Church. Instead, we listen as someone reads the Bible passage aloud and then each table group reflects on it by asking missional questions (adapted from Darrell Guder): What does the passage say about God? About us? What is the Good News in this passage? How does this passage send us out to help in God’s Mission? We may not have a typical sermon at Table Church, but the potential exists for a collective one to emerge as we respond to the Story, to each other, and to the voice of the Spirit. Various people of different ages participate in leading elements of the liturgy, through praying, reading the scripture, and offering a blessing to the group before we depart.
For each Table Church, we print a Spring Mount trivia question in the bulletin as a conversation starter (Example: Name the famous music act that wrote a song about the Perkiomen Creek.*). The questions are a fun way to delve into some of the history of our town. For some of us the answers are new information, while for others they recall memories from the past. It was great to observe one question–about a local park–inspire some reminiscing about the person the park was named for, a friend of a few church members.
It feels like God is doing something among us through Table Church. I think we are continuing to discover the vital ministry of hospitality. We are learning about the place where we meet, the place on whose behalf we are “seeking the peace” (Jer. 29:7). We are further experiencing the value of multi-voiced worship, and how God is present and shapes us as we listen to each other and to God’s Story. We are trying out new recipes and sharing new foods; one table group recently proposed the idea of creating a Table Church cookbook. So far, I think we are discovering that the table can be a fun, meaningful, and even holy place. No wonder Jesus spent so much time there.
*Trivia answer: Hall & Oates