Table Stories from Raleigh Mennonite Church

by Lois Beck
A blog entry in response to our “A Year at the Table” series.
January 8, 2020

Our pastor invites us to communion: “This isn’t the table of the Mennonite Church; it isn’t Raleigh Mennonite’s table. It is Jesus’ table, and he invites all of us.” The piece of bread and a sip from the cup nourishes us to serve others, such as the food co-op at the Parkview Manor Senior Center, aptly named The Neighborhood Network. Our money helps them supplement their limited food resources with food from the Regional Food Bank every two weeks. The relationships we have with them are priceless.  

The Society of St. Andrews Gleaning Organization extends our table giving us opportunity to glean in the fields of Wake County and neighboring counties.  The farmers’ produce that can’t be sold is gleaned, harvested and delivered to Neighborhood Network, Urban Ministries Food Pantry and other places where food is scarce.   

Christ’s table expands its reach. Food-4-Thought, a volunteer group, rescues food each weekend from Trader Joe’s and distributes fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and bread to about 90 households. The rescued fresh meat is shared with The Neighborhood Network. Christ’s table is abundant. Food-4-Thought uses our kitchen, refrigerators and freezer to store food. 

Raleigh Mennonite’s financial gifts helped provide a week’s supply of groceries for 8,000 household’s from the Client Choice Food Pantry at Urban Ministries of Wake County. Additional food referrals are made to Catholic Charities.  

Our local bakery, Yellow Dog Bread Company, shares their unsold items at the end of each day rather than throw them in the dumpster.  We pick them up after hours and their abundance is shared with Urban Ministries Food Pantry, Love Wins Community Engagement Center, Neighborhood Network and Food-4-Thought. 

Our little table expands to be part of the miracle of food in the city of Raleigh.  The hungry and thirsty are welcome at Christ’s table.

Children’s views on A Year at the Table

Leah’s perspective on her involvement with Food for Thought:

“Food for Thought is where Trader Joe’s gets rid of all the food it cannot sell.  And we give it away to people.  I like being a part of it because it gets me out of the house.  My whole family is a part of it.  I think Jesus would be happy because we feed God’s people in need who no one cares about.”

Emma’s depiction of an RMC potluck:

Drawing of an RMC potluck by Emma.

St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, Raleigh – Eucharistic Celebration

by Al Reberg
A blog entry in response to our “A Year at the Table” series.
November 16, 2019

The Communion Liturgy at Saint Ambrose Episcopal Church is read from the Book of Common Prayer or recited from memory.

Two people bring the bread and wine down the center Aisle and gives them to the Torch Bearer Acolytes, who place them on the table (not the altar) for the Priest. Another Acolyte assists the Priest with preparations. During the Jazz Mass the children are served first. The children (and parents of the very young) proceed up the steps before the alter, form a circle and receive the elements. Some have the Priest place the Eucharist on their tongues and take a sip of wine, others practice intinction.

When the children are finished they return to their seats and the choir is served at the rail before the alter. Then the ushers begin to allow adults and teenagers to proceed to the alter, row by row. The parishioners proceed to the rail before the alter, most kneel (a few may stand if kneeling is too difficult), placing right hand on top of left hand. The Priest and a Lay Eucharistic Minister place the wafer in each person’s right hand. Some have the Priest or Lay Eucharistic Minister place the Eucharist on their tongues and take a sip of wine, other only receive the wafer, and others practice intinction. After someone sips the wine, the lip of the goblet is wiped with a napkin. After the row at the alter has been served they rise and depart to the sides back to their seats and the next group proceeds forward to kneel, etc.

Hymns are sung during the celebration.

During the Contemplative Mass there is no special circle for children, and there is no singing. Otherwise the procedure is the same.

What connected with me?

  • I appreciate the ancient Eucharistic Liturgy. We used a form of it in weekly communion in our Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Saying the same words each week (soon from memory) allows one to focus on the experience, the sense of unity with others and from time to time to encounter the ineffable.
  • I deeply appreciate celebrating with and being served by people of color. Sometimes it’s almost an overwhelming feeling – infused with wonder and gratitude. And it brings more crisply to mind the reality of the universal church.
  • It is moving to see our Grandchildren serving as acolytes, intimately involved in the Eucharistic Celebration, and celebrating with them and our Daughter and her husband.
  • They serve wine, not grape juice.

What didn’t connect with me?

  • Nothing really. But it can sometimes be a challenge to get to the right page in the Book of Common Prayer.

How could our practice be enriched by what you saw?

  • I have always said that I’d like to celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday. Even if nothing else in the service connects, there’s another opportunity with a weekly Eucharistic Celebration.
  • For me consistent use of the ancient liturgy is great. But I know others (who have not had years of experience with it) think it’ll be boring and become an empty rote exercise, failing to encounter mystical moments.

What questions arose?

  • Why aren’t I there more often?
  • Couldn’t we actually serve wine at RMC?

Priest blessing children during communion at St Ambrose Episcopal Church
Celebrating Eucharist – Saint Ambrose Episcopal Church, Raleigh
photo credit: St Ambrose Episcopal Church

Reflections on Communion at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Oaxaca

by David Rohrer
A blog entry in response to our “A Year at the Table” series.
November 11, 2019

Last summer on two consecutive Sundays, Hans, Ann, Rosene and David celebrated communion with our brothers and sisters at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Oaxaca, Mexico. The service was conducted in English. The church has no assigned priest; rather it depends on visiting clergy to conduct worship. 

On the first Sunday, a student in training to be an Episcopal priest led the service. We formed a circle, reflecting our oneness in Christ, and passed the wine and wafers to one another, symbolizing the priesthood of all believers. On the second Sunday, worship was officiated by The Rev’d Canon William V. Derby (Paniaqua), OGSChurch of St Edward the Martyr (New York City), who administered the elements to each attendee. 

After both services, we gathered in the courtyard for light refreshments and fellowship. What a joy to see warm smiles and hear pleasant conversation in a mix of English and Spanish. How grateful we were to be welcomed as strangers into this community of faith and to be invited to partake of the Lord’s supper. 

People fellowship around a table of light refreshments in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Interfaith Meal – Nov. 3, 2019

We shared a wonderful meal with our Muslim and Jewish neighbors and drew insights from the rich table practices of these traditions.

Fall Intergenerational Retreat

This was the official kick-off retreat for our year’s study of table fellowship and communion practices at RMC. We looked at some ways God called God’s people to table fellowship and reflected on the ways we’ve experienced table fellowship and communion in the past and the present.

Neighborhood Pig Pickin’ Potluck

August 24, 2019
Folks brought side dishes to share and we enjoyed locally-sourced, sustainably-raised pork. It was cooked in a smoker all day long with the help of one of our member’s dads who came in from western NC to help out. The weather was a bit wet, so we ate inside.

Local Maronite church holds First Food Festival

by David Rohrer
A blog entry in response to our “A Year at the Table” series.
August 24, 2019

Rosene and I joined our Maronite friends today for a Taste of Lebanon, the first community festival given by Saint Sharbel Maronite Catholic Church. After purchasing our za’atar pie, hummus, kibbeh, kofta, grape leaves, etc., we spoke to Father Robert Farah about the celebration. “Before we opened today, we met to bless the food and the people who would be coming. After the event closes, we will meet to give thanks,” he said.

The Maronite Church is officially known as the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch. According to Father Robert, 90% of their worship locally is conducted in English. Some of their hymns and prayers are in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus and his disciples. Maronite communion practices reflect those of the larger Catholic church. Due to emigration since the 19th century, two thirds of their 3,000,000 members live outside of the Middle East. 

Christian Base Communities in El Salvador

by David Rohrer
A blog entry in response to our “A Year at the Table” series.
August 18, 2019

Also see related: El Salvador Impressions – a photo blog of the team’s trip

Laurel Marshall talks with the group about Christian base communities in El Salvador.
The group listens to Laurel Marshall explain about Salvadoran Christian base communities.

Today, following our time of worship at Raleigh Mennonite Church (RMC), Laurel Marshall shared from her experience with Salvadoran Christian base communities, abbreviated CEBs (communidades eclesiales de base). Later in the day, she met with the RMC delegation that will be visiting El Salvador this fall. We’re grateful for her guidance in helping us plan our trip focused on communion practices in CEBs. Laurel earned her master’s degree in Latin American theology from Universidad Americalatina ‘José Simeón Cañas’ (San Salvador) and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in systemic theology at Boston College. From 2011 to 2017, she worked as solidarity program coordinator for Fundación Hermano Mercedes Ruiz (FUNDAHMER), the organization that will host the delegation during our stay in El Salvador. 

Birthed from the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), CEBs call for full and active participation from everyone in church, using the model (1) see, (2) judge, (3) act. As they gather, they first look at their social context (see): What’s happened since we last met? What are the issues facing the community? They then look to the Bible (judge): What does God want us to do in response? Then they follow through on what they discern God is saying (act). 

Their faith runs very deep because they recognize their need for God, something we in the North often forget. In communion, CEBs practices reflect a broader use of scriptures involving food, for example, feeding of the five thousand. As Jesus did at the Last Supper, they use what’s available and what’s culturally appropriate, e.g., tortilla and coffee; or plantain and rice drink. And they provide an open table, welcoming children and adults, Christians and non-Christians alike. 

Folks at the fall 2019 worship retreat enjoy lunch together around the table.

Summer 2019 Worship Retreat

Folks at the fall 2019 worship retreat enjoy lunch together around the table.

by David Rohrer
A blog entry in response to our “A Year at the Table” series.

This summer’s RMC worship retreat began with the hymn “What is this place where we are meeting,” reminding us that “we are each other’s bread and wine.” Melissa then read all three Gospel accounts* of the last supper, interspersed with art depicting the last supper. The paintings below, along with others, will be featured this fall during communion.  

*Lord’s supper scriptures
Matthew 26:17-30
Luke 22:14-22
Mark 14:22-25

Six pictures depicting the account of the Lord's Supper in various styles.

Babette’s Feast

by Melissa Florer-Bixler
A blog entry in response to our “A Year at the Table” series.

It seemed fitting to me that we began our year of exploration and reflection on Communion practice in grace. Babette’s Feast, the first in our film series featuring movies about food and faith, is a story about grace received in a meal. It works around the tensions of mercy and commitment, of righteousness and joy, of holiness and pleasure.

In the story a young woman arrives on the shores of a small Danish fishing village. We discover that she is a refugee escaping civil war in France. She becomes the devoted servant of two elderly sisters, who in their youth, each gave up a chance at love and happiness – one through marriage the other through a singing career – in order to serve the ministry of their father, the leader of a Dutch Calvinist sect. Through a series of events, we can call them grace or chance, Babette comes into the sisters’ lives.

In the background of the film are the themes of regret and choice. How do we make choices and what do we do when we look back on regret at what we have done in our lives? Each of the characters faces these questions.

The apex of the film is a French meal cooked by Babette. We come to discover that in her previous life in France she was a celebrated chef. She wins the lottery and instead of spending the money to return to her life in France, as the sisters expect with sadness will be the result, she spends the entire sum, 10,000 francs, on a celebration meal for the remaining apostles of the sect.

The meal is grace. It is beauty and pleasure, righteousness and mercy kissing one another. Old hurts are overcome. Love that has been shamed is brought into the open. Regrets are lost in the hope and possibility of God’s constant provision, even when it is least expected.

The next day when we celebrated Communion as a church I had this scene in the back of my mind. The excess and abundance of Babette’s meal, her gratuitous and unmerited gift. 

During the meal the captain, the would-be-lover of the older sister, who returned to see her once more in his old age, offers a speech. While it doesn’t capture the beauty and pleasure of the meal, the color and scent and taste that waft from the screen, it puts to words the grace that flows through the meal, a grace and joy I hope will infuse itself into our church’s practice of the Lord’s Supper:

Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude. Grace, brothers, makes no conditions and singles out none of us in particular; grace takes us all to its bosom and proclaims general amnesty. See! that which we have chosen is given us, and that which we have refused is, also and at the same time, granted us. Ay, that which we have rejected is poured upon us abundantly. For mercy and truth have met together and righteousness and bliss have kissed one another!

A Year at the Table

A Year at the Table

Join Raleigh Mennonite for a year-long exploration, celebration, and discernment of our practice of Lord’s Supper, our relationship to food systems, and our community formed around meals.

Blog posts related to “A Year at the Table”

Sermons related to “A Year at the Table”

Peace Camp

June 15, 2019 (9 am – 3 pm)
Music, games, food, art, and conflict transformation skill-building workshop for ages 5 through rising 5th graders.

Food / Faith / Film (5 pm)

  • August 3:    In which a French refugee helps a strict Danish village learn the pleasures of eating together (Read Melissa’s post-film blog post.)
  • August 10:  (animated family-friendly movie!) In which a French rat with a gift for hospitality reminds us that “anyone can cook!”
  • August 17:   In which a new chocolaterie teaches a French village that life is about more than following the mayor’s rules
  • August 24:  In which an Indian family opens a restaurant across the street from a fancy French restaurant and sparks fly!
  • August 24: Neighborhood Pig Pickin’ Potluck, at 7 pm following the film
    Bring a dish to share and dig in to locally-sourced, sustainably-raised pork! We’re including lots of side dishes so there’s plenty of room for vegetarians and vegans to join in the fun. Come on out, rain or shine! In the event of rain, we’ll move the party inside the Hope school building.

Neighborhood Pig Pickin’ Potluck

August 24, 2019
Our Food, Faith and Film series culminated with a pig pickin’ potluck.

Community Tables

Fall 2019
Teams will explore tables in our community where people gather for meals and share reflections on what they learned.

Food and Fellowship Retreat

September 20-22, 2019
Camp Rockfish
A weekend spent delving deeper into our experience of faith, food, and ritual.

Church Tables

Fall 2019
Teams will observe how other churches practice Communion and share reflections on what they learned.

Interfaith Meal

November 3, 2019 (6 pm)
We shared a wonderful meal with our Muslim and Jewish neighbors and drew insights from the rich table practices of these traditions.

El Salvador Delegation

November 23-30
A team from RMC will travel to El Salvador to learn from base communities how they practice Communion and table fellowship. Participants will share what they learned with the congregation.

Church-Wide Book Study

January-May 2020
Each household will receive a copy of Sara Miles’ book, Take This Bread. Books can be discussed in small groups, dinner groups, and in a Sunday school class.

Pop-Up Seminary with Dr. Malinda Berry

February 15, 2020 (9 am – 3 pm)
Dr. Malinda Berry, professor of theology at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, will spend the weekend teaching on our Mennonite theology of Communion, new questions for Communion practice, and creating a robust and living theology of table as a local community.

Dr. Berry will also preach in worship on Sunday morning

Lent Food Scavenger Hunt Project

March-April 2020
A team from church will spend Lent living off food waste as we repent of our contribution to hunger in our community. Participants will offer reflections for the church.

Communion Retreat

May 2-3, 2020
Camp Rockfish
All-church gathering to process what we’ve learned and heard over the previous year as we discern together a rich and meaningful Communion practice.

Table Celebration Sunday

May 24, 2020 (10:30 am)
Location TBD
All-church Sunday outdoor worship as we celebrate our year of exploration at the table, culminating in sharing Communion and a meal.

Other Events

This year-long series is made possible through a Vital Worship Grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan, with funds provided by Lilly Endowment Inc.