Lenox Church Holds an Open Communion Meal
|Holding a 'Sacred Feast' for the community --
a brunch for nourishing body and soul
When delegates and other members of the Church on the Hill, UCC in Lenox attended last year's Massachusetts Conference Annual Meeting, they were especially inspired by the keynote speaker, The Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers. Meyers, senior minister of Mayflower Congregational UCC church of Oklahoma City, is a university professor, syndicated columnist, and the author of the book The Underground Church.
The Conference encouraged attendees to read his book before Annual Meeting in order to take full advantage of Meyers' presence. The Underground Church proposes that the faithful recapture the spirit of the early church with its emphasis on what Christians do rather than what they believe. Members of the Lenox church read the book and were motivated by a chapter suggesting conducting a worship service around a meal.
In Meyers' description of the seven characteristics of The Underground Church, the first one proposes: "As often as possible, the Underground Church will celebrate communion by serving an actual meal, before or after the service. It will be provided and served by members of the community, who bring food and share with all those who come, especially the poor." There is also emphasis on serving the stranger. And another characteristic proclaims "Worship styles and music in the Underground Church are to be intentionally diverse, joyful, and meant to bring worshipers into an experience of the divine." Church on the Hill aimed to cover all of these qualities.
On the first Sunday in June, the members held an Open Communion Meal worship at the Lenox Community Center, with whom the church has had a long time relationship. The worship service was centered around tables and celebrated a Sacred Feast -- a brunch for nourishing body and soul. Twenty-five church volunteers helped set up, cook, and run the event. The service and meal happened simultaneously, with tables in a 'U' shape, all set with bread, wine, grape juice, and brunch fixings. A bluegrass/gospel band played and attendees sang, prayed, and shared stories.
"We wanted to welcome the people of Lenox and invite them to experience how God comes to us in our ordinary lives through music, scripture, storytelling and eating," said the Rev. Natalie Shiras, pastor of the church.
"This occasion represented a fresh style of worship that speaks to the many folks in our community who are spiritual but not religious," said church moderator Amy Chin. [See her blog article about the event's process.]
Most of the members attended, though many were skeptical. And everyone was pleasantly surprised at how successful it turned out. According to Shiras, the number of attendees at the special service was nearly double that of the weekly church service. Many people who were not regular churchgoers, and many who had never even stepped into the church before, came to the service. "Some have since come to our usual services as a result," reported Shiras.
More importantly, people said they felt a direct experience with God.
"Jesus welcomed all at a meal and fed people both physically and spiritually, and this is what we did," said Shiras. "In today's society, more people desire to experience God's spirit, but want it in a new fresh way. People are moving from a focus on beliefs to a focus on experience."
And Church on the Hill provided just that.
Editor's Note: Click here for a video recording and more information on The Dr. Robin Meyers' Annual Meeting Presentation, and a study guide for The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus.