by Terry Maples, CBFVA Coordinator
A meaningful part of my work as CBFVA Coordinator is visiting partner churches across the state, and I make a concerted effort to participate in a variety of worship services during the Season of Advent. Something I witnessed multiple times during December and early January offers a challenge for congregations still practicing “closed” communion.
On December 6, I was privileged to preach at First Baptist Church in Danville. The first Sunday of the month, also the First Sunday of Advent (hope), ended with communion. Angela Zimmerman, worship minister, offered words of institution and warmly invited all Christ-followers to the Lord’s Table.
On Christmas Eve, my family attended two worship services. The first was 5 PM candlelight communion at May Memorial Baptist Church in Powhatan where my wife Joan serves as music minister. Pastor Michael Edwards openly declared, “all who profess faith in Jesus are welcome at the Lord’s Table. This is not May Memorial’s table…it’s the Lord’s Table where all are welcome.”
After our family enjoyed Christmas Eve dinner together, we traveled to River Road Church, Baptist, for an 8 PM candlelight communion service. Daniel Glaze guided communion and overtly invited all to “come, be fed” at the Lord’s Table.
What these congregations had in common was the theological understanding the communion table does not belong to a particular congregation. It’s the Lord’s Table…it’s the Lord’s invitation to all to come, be spiritually nourished and find forgiveness and encouragement for the lifelong journey of faith. I commend these congregations and their leaders who “get it right” by acknowledging the inclusive nature of the God of all creation.
Contrast the theological understanding above with a story shared in a Christmas letter my mother-in-law received from one of her friends in Wisconsin. Lori’s friend, now in an assisted living facility, reported that a Catholic group (NOTE: I’m not picking on Catholics…many faith groups continue to practice closed communion) leading worship each week, won’t serve her because she is Lutheran. She bemoaned the fact her daughter must occasionally take her to a nearby Lutheran church so she can participate in Lord’s Supper. When did worship and communion become “members only” events?
An additional experience during the holidays is worth noting: the funeral service of Robert Dilday at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Richmond on December 28. I worked closely with Robert for many years when he was associate editor of the Religious Herald, and he was my editor for articles I wrote for Baptist News Global. A moving part of Robert’s memorial liturgy was communion. These words caught my attention: “This is the table, not of the Church, but of the Lord. It is made ready for those who love him and for those 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 here long; you who have tried to follow and you who have failed. Come, because it is the Lord who invites you. It is his will that those who want him should meet him here.” Written instructions included these words, “All are welcome to receive the Sacrament.” The rector gave oral instructions to reinforce the inclusive words so every person in the room—regardless of religious orientation or belief or practice—recognized the invitation to come and be fed by the elements representing God’s tangible and loving embrace of all who mourn.
Finally, back in my home church (Central Baptist in Richmond) on the first Sunday of January while communing, Pastor David Turner and other staff ministers reiterated “this is the Lord’s Table and all are welcome.” This was a wonderful reminder at our first gathering of the new year that God loves all of us and all can come and be spiritually nourished by the bread and with the cup.
Well done, good and faithful congregations awake to God’s inclusive nature! As we continue to recall Christ’s birth, let us resist efforts to push God’s people away from The Lord’s Table. Remember, it’s the Lord’s Church, and God’s table is for all!