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An Ancient-Future Agape Meal

One of the (too) many projects I’m working on for church these days is next week’s evening “vespers” service. This year, all the adult Sunday school classes are taking a turn at planning and conducting the service. A couple months back, a few of us met to discuss options.

We decided we wanted to highlight the work of our church’s Crisis Closet ministry, which has grown by leaps and bounds after it was re-started a year or two back. The ministry’s coordinator is going to share a little about how we are helping others in Jesus’ name, we’re going to make an appeal for people to step up their contributions of canned goods and other non-perishable food items, etc. A couple of us were assigned to work out the details of the service. I mentioned that I had some worship resources on a social justice theme that drew on Celtic sources that we could perhaps look over, and my partner said he also had similar resources from the Iona Community. (He had just returned from Ireland; I don’t know if he made a side trip or if this was just something he already had an interest in.)

Along the way, somebody suggested that since the theme of the evening was turning into something like “God provides food,” it would be nice to incorporate the finger foods that are usually reserved for the conclusion of the service into the service itself and make it a kind of “agape” or early Christian “love feast.” Other planners took up the task of getting the word out that we wanted somewhat heavier fare than might usually be expected.

We also decided (I offered the suggestion, but I didn’t push the issue‚ÄîI swear!!) that we would conclude the service with Communion. Thus, the eating motif gets played out in a number of different ways: we gather around tables to fellowship with one another, we consider the biblical mandate to feed the hungry in Jesus’ name, and we share the meal that Jesus gave us as an expression of his grace.

As for the service itself, we decided to work with a more-or-less liturgical framework, simplified to fit (1) the informal nature of the evening service and (2) the non-liturgical sensitivities of the average Baptist 🙂 Here is the basic outline:

The Gathering: The service is conducted around tables in the “Great Room”: the church’s original fellowship hall. We begin with a blessing over the food, then give people time to fill their plates and enjoy each other’s company. Eventually, we call the group to attention with a congregational hymn, words of welcome, and a musical interlude.

The Word: Next, we read Scripture passages about God’s provision of food and listen to the Crisis Closet coordinator describe this aspect of our church’s ministry. We then read responsively an affirmation of faith from the Iona Community focusing on God’s care and provision for all people.

The Table: We sing another congregational hymn, “All Who Hunger, Gather Gladly,” then join in the traditional Sursum Corda before the Communion Prayer. (My last bit of preparation is to find/compose an appropriate prayer based on traditional and contemporary Celtic sources. I know where to look; just haven’t had the time to do it!) After the Lord’s Prayer, we commune at our tables, then reflect in silence.

The Sending: Finally, we stand and recite words of dismissal drawn from the Community of Aidan and Hilda.

Update: The complete order of worship is now posted for those who may be interested.

technorati tags: agape, celtic christianity, communion, liturgy, worship


1 Comment

  1. PS says:

    Just don’t tell them that this is what some other branches of The Church do! ha ha.

    Our services have Gathering, Word (usually 4 readings of the theme for the day), Response, Meal (not every week), and Sending.

    The liturgical form used to be a mystery to me because, even though I grew up in the church, the whys and wherefores weren’t really explained. And I didn’t understand how liturgy could be “traditional” when we would get a new liturgy or two or three every time there was a new hymnal.

    But in the last 15 years or so, the secretaries have put these section titles in the bulletin. Then the light bulb went on for me! As Lutherans, of course, several parts of the service involve the people speaking reponsively.

    Many years ago, I talked with a Lutheran pastor who had come through a non-Lutheran path. I asked him how could he become a Lutheran pastor when the church that had influenced him so much was so much more “free” and so much less liturgical. He said that when you go there long enough you find that the same people say the same things over and over any way that it becomes a sort of liturgy.

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