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What Do We Bring From the Table?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Katy Stenta is curating a series called “Worship Outside the Box” that looks at the elements of worship in new ways and contexts. Each post will focus on one particular part of worship, providing new insights about how we can gather to worship God. Today’s post serves as the Lord’s Supper. What are the ways you worship God in your own community? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Barb Hedges-Goettl

It’s commonplace to talk about what one person or another “brings to the table” as a reflection of the desire increase the available gifts and skills. However, since at the Lord’s Table, God does most of the bringing and we partake of and participate in what God gives, the question could be turned around to ask: what do we receive and take from the Table?

Historic practices of the Lord’s Supper have attended to the past actions of Christ Jesus in the crucifixion; to the spiritual more than to the physical; to fencing rather than opening. While they have not clearly signified bounty, the loaf is bigger, the cup deeper, and the Table wider than these practices would imply.

Our past, present, and future lie in God. We celebrate what — by the power of the Holy Spirit — God has done, is doing, and will do. The Supper signals not only Jesus’ crucifixion but his resurrected presence today. Christ Jesus is present, incarnate in and for the world, not imprisoned in the past or in the rite. Thus, from the Table we receive and take the present presence of Christ Jesus.

The Supper forecasts our eternal presence together with Christ Jesus in the joyful feast, the great banquet, the marriage supper of the Lamb. It participates in the “Not Yet” as well as in the “Now.” From the Table, we receive and take part in God’s ongoing work in the world, proclaiming the good news of God’s grace and love.

The meal is not ours. It doesn’t belong to this particular church, this particular community, or this denomination. Since it belongs to Christ Jesus, the lost, the suffering, the different, the “Other,” and sinners (even Judas!) are at the Table. Everyone brings who they are and what they have, and from this God makes a potluck dinner party. And so from the Table we receive and take being present with and for one another.

At this Table, we are offered what is central to life. In Jesus’ time, this was bread. As a Korean friend of mine has suggested, in Asian countries it could be rice. In the USA, it might be meat and potatoes. From the Table we receive and take the “meat” of life: God incarnate shared with all people as made in God’s image.

From the Table we receive and take the sanctification of the physical stuff of life. Going beyond even the best language for worship (as described by the Directory for Worship), what we receive and take is more expressive than rationalistic; a matter of affect rather than just thought; a building up and persuading as well as an informing and describing; ardor as well as order. It is an expressing of the whole community’s utterance, as well as the individual’s devotion. This eucharistic experience of faith is visceral as well as intellectual; active as well as contemplative; embodied as well as inspirited; enacted as well as verbalized. (Like Calvin, we experience it more than we understand it.) And so from the Table we receive and take an experience of faith that encompasses all that we are and have.

The Lord’s Supper is not to be scarfed up by those who get to the Table first so that others have nothing. That’s not how the body of Christ works. The koinonia, the body of Christ, is shared. It includes weak and strong, prominent and lowly, not just as distinct categories, but as the mixture found within each person. And so from this Table of koinonia, we receive and take the body of Christ for all of us.

Like at the meals Jesus shared with the thousands for whom he also “blessed, broke, and gave” bread, there is more than enough for all. All eat their fill with basketsful leftover. Maybe the Table should bear a cornucopia. Maybe the cup — whether little individual cups or the large communal cup — should sometimes overflow, brimming over in wild abandon, for from the Table we receive and take plentitude, wild provisioning, Abundanza, God’s uncontainable overflowingness.

[Receive.]
Take.
Eat.
This is Christ’s body, broken for you.
Thanks be to God.
Amen.


Barb Hedges-Goettl is a Presbyterian pastor and worship geek who loves delving into the Word to find words for work of liturgy. She live in the Philadelphia area and currently uses her writing and teaching (and pastoring) skills with inner-city middle school special ed students.

Rooster Soup, Gospel Values, and Creative Fundraising

By Andy Greenhow and Casey Thompson

We’re always surprised by who God calls to the table.

Maybe we shouldn’t be. We’re both pastors, after all. Andy, especially. He is one of the pastors at Broad Street Ministry (BSM), a ministry founded in Philadelphia in 2005 based on the gospel value the church could be a place where everyone belongs. Emphasis on everyone. So the BSM founding mothers and fathers like Rev. Bill Golderer, BSM’s Convening Minister, stood on street corners and handed out printed invitations to worship and to the weekly No Barriers Dinner, Philadelphia’s Most Dangerous Dinner Party.

And wouldn’t you know it? People showed up. But in addition to young, artsy, and employed pledging units, outwardly suffering people came in droves—people experiencing hunger, homelessness, poverty, addiction, and mental illness. They came to the table—the liturgical one at the center of our worship and the round ones in the cathedral dining room, a scene straight out of Luke 14. They came to eat at our community meals, but they also needed a change of clothes, they were looking for some deodorant or a change of underwear, and they needed a mailing address.

The question shifted from, “How do you get people to come?” to “How do you care for our city’s most vulnerable?” BSM had a strong staff and a relatively coherent theology rooted in the table, but in order for us to accommodate all the people who had accepted the invitation, we needed help from the pros. So we invited a few more to the table: a diverse group of hoteliers and restaurateurs to come together and advise us on how we could be the newest members of Philadelphia’s robust hospitality industry.

Fast forward a few years and some of those restaurateurs came to BSM with an idea. CookNSolo (that’s Steven Cook and Mike Solomonov) is a family of restaurants, among them a local favorite, Federal Donuts, specializing in fried chicken and donuts. (Fried Chicken and Donuts, y’all!) Federal Donuts was discarding about 1,000 pounds of perfectly good chicken backs and bones a week and wanted to make it into soup. God had invited them to the table and they had something to bring. Of course, the soup would taste good. But could it do good, too?

Rooster Soup-main After some fried-chicken-fueled brainstorming between Mike, Steven, and Bill, Broad Street Ministry and Federal Donuts decided to invite even more people to the table and open the Rooster Soup Company, a restaurant that uses discarded chicken from FedNuts to make delicious soup to be sold at a profit to support Broad Street Ministry’s hospitality work. A restaurant that donates all its profits can’t exactly get traditional investors or a bank loan, so we widened the invitation to the table a little more and took to Kickstarter to crowdfund the idea. (It’s going really well, thanks for asking! There’s about a week left and you can watch the video if you think you’re interested in joining us at the table.)

Rooster Soup

What Casey thinks is brilliant about this idea (which he’s comfortable saying since he had nothing to do with it) is that it’s harnessing a gospel value — hospitality — that people who never walk in a church value as well. Like Steven and Mike. You won’t find them at church but you could probably catch them at the synagogue for the high holidays. And if you look at the backers on Kickstarter, you’ll find Buddhists and Muslims, atheists and agnostics, a little bit of everyone around the table. As we said earlier, we’re always surprised by who God calls to the table.

We also think there’s some deep thinking the church needs to do about how the church develops social businesses—because tithing is dying and we need to start these conversations now. If it emerges from our defining values, like the value of hospitality, then it has a chance of being an authentic invitation to the gospel as well as a revenue stream.

But that’s a blog post for another day.

The big idea here is this: Some people who had nothing to do with the Presbyterian church or even the broader Christian church came to us with a concept that they wanted to try, oriented around shared gospel values that they believed we would want to get on board with, that would enliven a whole city around new possibilities, and that would provide sustainable funding to an important ministry.

The next church doesn’t only try established possibilities and it doesn’t shout into the echo chamber to find solutions. It reaches out, finds best practices, asks for help, and finds a diverse body of shared-value stakeholders. Something like this could happen anywhere. So let’s get Rooster Soup off the ground and then we’ll gather at the table again and do something like it somewhere else.

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Andy is Minister of Stewardship, Congregational Partnership & Belonging at BSM and is coordinating the Rooster Soup Co. effort for Broad Street.

Casey’s not on staff at BSM but he likes to pretend he is and might as well be. He is the Pastor of the Wayne Presbyterian Church, one of the five founding churches of BSM.