Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fencing the table

Thanks to this month's book choice, there's been quite a discussion over in RevGal-land around questions of hospitality versus church identity. I didn't even try to read the book (somewhere in the curate's brain, a glimmer of realism stirred) but I wanted to throw in my 2 cents worth on the topic. The springboard for discussion was a scenario in which visiting Buddhist monks (iirc) were welcome and communicated at the altar...and there was much to-ing and fro-ing around the implications this has for baptism as a rite of entry and identity.

Back in the spring, I heard Bishop Lindsay Urwin speak on these very issues (and blogged it, here).At the time I was (and remain) deeply taken with his suggestion of porous boundaries, and a "lively doctrine of exceptions" which would allow for the Eucharist to become a sacrament of evangelism. If, as he argued, an encounter with Christ in the sacrament of bread and wine might inspire someone to seek baptism, can you imagine the incalculable damage that might be done by sending a longing communicant away empty-handed?
And, as Bishop Lindsay pointed out, we rarely, if ever, enquire about the baptismal status of visiting adults who appear at the altar rail on a Sunday morning...we rely on the implicit belief "The Lord knows his own, and what he's done to them".

For me, the invitation that the Iona community offers (Holy Communion Liturgy B in the Wee Worship Book) puts it best (though I recognise that, as ever, cowardice combined with denominational accountability might not allow me to proclaim this explicitly as often as I'd like)

This is the table not of the Church but of the Lord.
It is to be made ready for those who love him,
and who want to love him more.

So, come,
you who have much faith
and you who have little,
you who have been here often
and you who have not been for a very long time,
you who have tried to follow
and you who have failed.

Come, not because it is I who invite you:
it is our Lord.
It is his will that those who want him
should meet him here.


"PS" said...

That is another one of my favorite litugies...thanks for reminding me

Caroline said...

I hadn't come across that liturgy. I love it. We don't use liturgy much in my (baptist based) church, but I will forward that prayer to our pastor and suspect he might want to use it...

Thanks. It also spoke to me tonight about God meeting me where I am right now.

Songbird said...

Beautiful, thank you for sharing the liturgy.

Karin said...

Thank you for posting that, Kathryn. A past Baptist minister used to say that and I thought it was so good. I had forgotten how it went and had no idea where to find it. I had no idea it was in the wee worship book. I'll have to go and find it.

ppb said...

That's one of my favorites, too.

lorna (see throughfaith) said...

My thesis (waiting to be printed) was on the Eucharist - and from the questionnaires I got back here in this city - it seems that we are very far from this yet ... pastors are proud that at long last (cos of the Porvoo agreement) that Anglicans can receive communinion with Lutherans - and it is great - but it's far from what Jesus died for.
I long for the day when the altar is really open for ALL - and truly believe it could be a place of conversion. (It can also be a place of indifference - today many Christians receive the Eucharist indifferently and it - not suprisingly - then doesn't effect a change in them)

interesting post Kathryn. Thanks

marcella said...

I was all set to comment, but then I decided that since I don't do boundaries very well I'd better not!

Erin said...

very interesting...I'll have to find the book. I read Sara Miles' book Eat this Bread this summer and it certainly supports the idea of an open table.

Barbarah said...

I've always thought that those Iona words of invitation echo ones I often use - which I found orginally in a 1980s Baptist book 'Praise God'. Do you know it ? It starts, 'Come to this sacred table, not because you must but because you may' Too long to quote the whole thing here, but I also like the phrase 'come not because you are strong, but because you are weak' Well it usually resonates with me, if not the congregation !

Anonymous said...

The words that Barbara refers to comes from the middle paragraph Congregational Manual for Ministers in 1936. It has been much copied, imitated develped by Baptiss, Methodists UCC etc. the whole invitation is this:

Come to this sacred table, not because you must but because you may: come not to testify that you are righteous, but that you sincerely love the Lord Jesus Christ, and desire to be his true disciples; come, not because you are strong but because you are weak; not because you have any claim on heaven’s rewards but because in your frailty and sin you stand in constant need of heaven's mercy and help; come not to express an opinion, but to seek a presence and pray for a Spirit.