On my recent stay in Australia, I greatly valued the opportunity of visiting a home in Melbourne where I shared in a ‘group’ meeting, which combined an innovative liturgy with good food and fellowship. At an earlier stage of its development the group had called itself ‘Table Church’, but now it no longer used the term ‘church’, and instead simply calls itself ‘Thank God It’s Friday’. Yet quite clearly at the very least it is a place to share life and faith.
‘Thank God it’s Friday!’ happens every Friday evening– although set in two venues, some attend every other week. Of the nineteen people present on the particular evening we visited, four were children; of the remaining 15, probably just seven were ‘committed’ and attended a church service on a Sunday – most of the other eight seemed to be very much on the ‘edge’ of church, with one or two being gay, another struggling to retain faith, while one or two appeared to have no faith at all. It was an interesting mix of what appeared to be a well-educated and highly voluble group of friends.
After a pre-dinner drink, we sat down to table and we began the liturgy – the opening part of which I reproduce with the words in bold said together. There was no ‘leader’ – all the sentences could be led by anyone present.
The youngest present: ‘Come, everything is ready! God welcomes us and so we welcome one another’
We then went round the table mentioning each person by name, saying: At the end of a long week we welcome you to this table. To which each individual replied: Amen, it’s good to be here.
BREAD AND WINE
The children light a candle and bring bread and wine to the table
‘While they were at the table Jesus took a of bread and after giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying “Take; this is my body”. The he took a cup of wine, and gave it to them. “This is my blood – which is poured out for many”’.
Thank you God that ordinary things can become special when placed in your hands. Thank you that that which is broken may be made whole, and that which is given is not wasted.
Bread was passed around
‘For all that is whole and sustaining’, We give thanks
Wine/juice was passed around
‘For all that is celebratory and joyful’, We give thanks
For life, for food and for friends to share it with, we give thanks. Amen!
THE FIRST COURSE
On this occasion wonderful soup was served
SHARING THE WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS AND LOW POINTS
This sharing was then followed by a response:
‘For all that has been life-giving and rewarding’, We give thanks
‘For all that has been an invitation to grow and change,’ We seek to embrace it
‘For all that we have suffered’, We let go
‘For all that we may have inflicted’, We are deeply sorry
AFFIRMATION OF ONE ANOTHER
‘Thank you Lord for this meal’. But we cannot live by bread alone. We have shared it together because we need each other gathered round this table. We need (each person was named). To which each individual replied: And I need you!
Lord God, as we bring our prayers we thank you that we can share in your Kingdom of justice and peace. We come in our poverty, not in our wealth; in our blindness, not with great faith; in our weakness, not in strength. You welcome all people, so now we bring to you those who need love, light and peace.
Night lights were lit as individuals or situations were named
More prayers then followed
THE SECOND COURSE
Tempting desserts were served
A brief form of night prayer.
At the end of the evening all kinds of questions went through my mind. Was this really a fresh expression of church? Was this worship? Bread and wine were present, and yet were not ‘Eucharistic’ in the conventional sense. The Scriptures were not read and no ‘Word’ was shared, and yet God’s word of acceptance was clearly stated. There were prayers for others – but not prayers of worship of confession.
Was this mission? I gather that over the years people have re-found a faith that they had previously rejected. Others who have been very wary of church, have found their way back into a renewed faith. One couple, for instance, who had not been to church for a long time came along for several years and reconnected with God in a significant way and as a result are now leading a traditional church. But it would be true to say that the missional aspect of the group is very low-key.
I confess that I was deeply moved by what we experienced. I sensed God was truly present in our midst. It must be great to belong to such a group where people could be truly open with one another and know the support and encouragement of friends. Would that every church home group could be as warm and loving as this group. In many ways it really was church. Indeed, I think that I could argue that it was mission.