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.
Melissa preaching

Reconciled in God through Jesus – Nov. 17, 2019

Food is political. Eating is a kind of politics. Isaiah offers this vision of the the end of all things, centering around a meal. In this passage, all things, all people, are reconciled in God. Everything bruised and damaged is made whole, but also those who bruise and damage are made whole. We’re all there together sharing the joy and intimacy of food.

With Veterans Day last Monday, Melissa admonishes us to advocate for veterans who have come back from military service. While this may seem like a contradiction for pacifists, it is an act of reconciliation. Veterans are also victims; victims of systems of war. When they return from war, they often suffer from moral injury.

Isaiah 25:1-9, Colossians 1:16-20

Reconciled in God through Jesus – Nov. 17, 2019
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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.

Melissa preaching at RMC on August 18, 2019

In Covenant with Creation – Sept. 29, 2019

Leviticus 11:1-22

This Sunday Melissa wove together an explanation for the Levitical rules for what meat was clean and unclean with both the current climate change crisis and our focus with A Year at the Table.

Human lust for domination over creation is the root cause of climate change. God loves the whole world and is in covenant with creation. Life belongs to God.

In Covenant with Creation – Sept. 29, 2019
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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.

Isaac Villegas - Feb. 2018

The house of slavery – Sept. 15, 2019

Exodus 13:3-10

Isaac Villegas, pastor of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship, brought the sermon this Sunday. The Exodus passage recalls the first Jewish Passover. The meal was a ritual, reminding them of the liberation from the house of slavery.

“Love is contraband in Hell,
Cause love is an acid
that eats away bars.”
~Assata Shakur

The house of slavery – Sept. 15, 2019
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Melissa preaching at RMC on Sept. 8, 2019

Invited to the Table – Sept. 8, 2019

Genesis 18:1-15

Melissa began her sermon talking about her many visits to A Place at the Table. Unfortunately, the first two minutes were not recorded, so we pick up from her comparison of A Place at the Table with the story of the three strangers who visit Abraham and Sarah at the oaks at Mamre. Abraham welcomes the strangers and brings Abraham and Sarah’s best for them.

What can we learn about the gathering tables in our community? Where is God present or absent? As we break bread at these tables, we’re invited to observe, to be hospitable and take part in the hospitality, and be witness to the divine presence.

Invited to the Table – Sept. 8, 2019
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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.

Place setting with A Year at the Table in text over the plate

God shows up at the Table – Aug. 25, 2019

Genesis 1

Melissa’s sermon was preceded by viewing a video featuring James Weldon Johnson reciting the poem The Creation. The poetry of Genesis is where we’re starting our “Year at the Table.”

Our lives are dependent upon creation, just as they’re dependent upon a loving, creative God. Every time we eat, we are reminded that we do not control the world. We are reminded that our very existence is a gift.

God shows up at the Table – Aug. 25, 2019
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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.