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Table Hospitality


Let church bells ring

Let children sing

Even if they don't know why, let them sing

Why drown their joy

Stifle their voice

Just because you've lost yours

-Gungor, Church Bells

At The Bridge Church for the past two years we’ve been operating with a commitment to five core values that shape to some extent all that we do here in this community. We have committed ourselves to (1)Trinitarian Worship, (2)Discerning Prayer, (3)Intentional Cross Generationality, (4)Transparent Discipleship, and (5)Indiscriminate Hospitality. And when our leaders meet to either plan what we are going to do, or to evaluate what we have done, we always endeavour to look at our programming through the lens of those five core values. How does our worship communicate these values? How do our activities teach these values? How does our community engender these values in the people within it?

Over the past year, you may have noticed that we have been subtly and not-so-subtly tweaking our worship service format in different ways to produce the desired outcomes. We have moved around the offering, made changes to the prayer of confession, changed how we signed in the kids, and how we interact with them during the worship time. All of these changes have been in response to issues we have discerned in trying to base what we do around those core values. Specifically we have struggled to find a balance between doing intentional cross-generationality (having the kids participate in worship) and transparent discipleship (meeting and discussing around tables) well. We have recognized that there seems to be a level of mutual exclusivity between having the children fully immersed within the worship experience (and with their families) and having people in helpful groups around tables for the discussion time later in the service. The easy solution of course is to focus on one and abandon the other (i.e. either send the children upstairs for the whole service and keep the worship structure as-is, or abandon the tables for discussion and have the kids sit in the worship service with their families until dismissal), but we are committed to finding a way forward to keep both of these important elements of our worship and church culture. But how?

The ministry staff have been discussing this for a while now and praying through what God might have us do, or how he might have us change to fix these tensions (or perhaps live with them) and a couple weeks ago I think we had a breakthrough revelation. What if the problem was not one of a lack of focus on cross-generationality, or transparent discipleship, but a weakness with indiscriminate hospitality instead? Bear with me while I explain what we mean by that.

In the time that I have been a part of The Bridge Church family, I have often heard how welcoming we are to outsiders. That makes me very proud as a pastor. And since we launched our five core values in 2015 I have seen even more intentionality in that area than before. You have done very well to take up that cause and live it out as a community. Our recent forays into refugee sponsorship testify to the growth that has occurred in that area. But when we talk about hospitality in the church there is one place that theologically is always central to that discussion and it’s the one place where we have not seen any significant change since we adopted our new core values – and that is around the table of communion.

In the early church, and throughout Christian history, the place where people met to be reconciled to God and to each other was around the broken bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper. It was the place where sinners and saints alike met Jesus and were nourished by him directly. We have made the point of teaching at this church that the table is hosted by Jesus and that as a result we don’t fence it. That whomever might want to come and dine with Jesus should be drawn in by the Holy Spirit and respond accordingly. Our role is to simply share what has been so generously shared with us so that Christ might be experienced by all. On the surface we seem to have this figured out pretty well – except for one group of people for whom we still restrict access to the elements: Our children.

To our own children, we have not extended the same hospitality that we are quick to offer to strangers in our midst. To our own children, we are content to have them taught about Jesus but not to experience the presence of Jesus the way the disciples did in the breaking of the bread. We have kept the mysteries of the faith, and the blessings of the Lord from them, if not explicitly by choice, then implicitly by scheduling them away from the meal whenever we celebrate it. After prayerful consideration and long discussion, I have become convinced that this is where God is calling us to change.

I understand that for those who, like me, have been raised in conservative evangelical circles that you have likely grown up with the (frequently unquestioned) assumption that children don’t understand the gravity of communion enough to partake. And that partaking of this meal in an “unworthy manner” (1 Cor. 11:27) risks divine judgment upon the one who partakes. We have been taught that we are somehow saving our kids from God’s wrath by keeping them away from the bread and the cup. But let me ask you – does that actually make sense of what you know and believe about God? Do you actually believe that he would be angry with a child who earnestly wants to participate in the ritual with their family, and have the blessing of meeting Jesus at the table? I’ve spoken elsewhere and at length many times about how that whole judgment piece is one of the most misapplied passages in the scripture and how it speaks to the nature of partaking of the meal in a community that acknowledges Christ in all of its members instead of unworthily marginalizing some (in context, the poor). Does this not also hold true for our children? Is it possible that it is not the kids who risk eating in an unworthy manner, but we who eat without considering them?

I have written at length about this issue with what is required for saving faith and understanding for participation in the sacraments/ordinances of the church here. And if you are unconvinced I would urge you to read it and then talk to me about your concerns.

But as for how we are going to handle this in worship. Beginning this Sunday with our communion celebration we are going to bring the kids back from their Sunday School classes during the passing of the peace and then we will invite them with their parents to participate in the meal with the church family. Prior to coming down the Sunday school teachers will all spend time teaching about what communion is, why we share the meal, and the mechanics of how it is to work in our service. And then you – the church will have to practice indiscriminate hospitality by welcoming these children into our fellowship during the passing of the peace. If you are lucky enough to have kids at your table (and if you run out of chairs just grab extras and squeeze them in) why not invite a child to help you gather the elements from the front and take intentional time to explain what you’re doing and why we are doing this together. I am confident that more than anything else we do/have done as a church, that THIS will be the action that communicates value and belonging to our children the most.

We will do this in July and August as well and then evaluate how things went to discern whether it is something we want to continue to do in the fall. I know that this will be a stretch for some of you, but I also know that you’re capable of stretching and that Jesus – who instructs us to welcome the little children as he does – will be likewise welcoming them through you.

See you on Sunday,

Chris

#Changes #Children #Communion

The Bridge Church

of the Christian and Missionary Alliance

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620 Oxbow Bend Rd, Winnipeg, MB R3K 2G1, Canada

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