My Advice for Churches: Part 1, Center the Table

I recently addressed a gathering of preachers and pastors from my faith tradition. I was asked to share what I thought we should do in our churches. Not all of this will apply to other churches and traditions, but some of it will. Tweak and modify as needed.

The greatest liturgical resource in my faith tradition is the Table, the Lord's Supper. In my tradition the reason we gather on Sunday is to take the Lord's Supper, to celebrate the Eucharist. We gather not to hear a sermon. Not to hear a praise band. We gather because Christ has welcomed us to his Table.

Historically, the Lord's Supper has been at the center of our worship. But that's changing. The sermons and the praise bands are starting to marginalize the Eucharist.

So this was my first bit of advice: Center the the Table.

By center I mean build the entire service around the Eucharist. Make the Table the central and visible symbol of the worship space. The band and the preacher move around the Table. They are not the reason we have gathered, the Table is. We are God's gathered family around it.

Attend to the aesthetics. Instead of metal trays filled with plastic cups, have a single, large earthenware chalice. Next to the cup, have a large loaf of bread. Break the bread upon blessing it. Images shape the imagination. Create the images.

Narrate the Table as a liturgy of welcome and hospitality. We've been welcomed by Christ. Let us welcome each other. Practice open communion. "This is the Lord's Table. All are welcome."

Hearts and imaginations are formed when we move our bodies. So move bodies during the liturgy. Get everyone up and coming forward. Let the ritual say: This is the most important part of your week.

Focus on the words spoken upon receiving the bread. "The body of Christ, broken for you." And the words of the cup. "The blood of Christ, shed for you."

In sum, I find it totally shocking, and bordering on pastoral malpractice, that pastors will sing the praises of James Smith's work in You Are What You Love, and fail to attend to the most potent liturgical tool at our disposal, either by refusing to celebrate the Lord's Supper each week or refusing to center our worship around it.

If it's true that we are what we love, and that liturgies shape our love, helping us desire the the Kingdom, then there is no more potent tool at our disposal than the Eucharist.

Practice it weekly. Center it. Narrate it's welcome. Move us toward it.

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