OPEN TABLE, Communion for All

by Lonnie Fields

I’d like to share my testimony about a ministry I’m involved in here at St. John Church. It’s called, OPEN TABLE Communion for All. This ministry happens at Bellevue’s First Lonnie FieldsFridays between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. when all the shops, galleries and restaurants are open on Fairfield Avenue. We simply set up a tent top at the sidewalk on the corner of Fairfield and Ward Avenues in front of the Church.

It is a very informal arrangement of us, to be accessible to all who are strolling the avenue shopping and heading to dinner. The first night I participated in this ministry, I was hesitant to approach individuals and invite them to participate in receiving communion. How in the world do you provide communion to a perfect stranger in a way that is welcoming and not disrupting their evening?

This ministry is an outreach, to be available to those who are seeking. We simply sit or stand at the tent top and say to people, “we are providing communion for anyone who would like to receive it, would you like to receive communion?” Some say no thank you, some say nothing and keep walking, some just look at us strangely, and others are shocked, touched and pleasantly surprised that we would do this for anyone who wants to receive. For those who say yes to our invitation, we share a few words about communion, share the bread and the cup with them, and then we ask if we can offer a prayer for them. If they say yes, we ask if they have anything in particular they would like for us to pray for. Some do, some don’t. We offer a prayer and then offer some materials about St. John and the United Church of Christ.

To be honest, I had misgivings about how this concept would work and perhaps questions about my own comfort level with the concept. However, it is amazingly well received. All of us who have participated in this ministry can remember particular individuals who seemed to be very appreciative of this ministry and had particular needs. They always thank us for being here in the neighborhood and for being on the street to offer communion. These comments and exchanges always make the effort more than worth it and have given me several experiences of “AH HAH” moments (reasons we were meant to be there).

At one of the first times we offered OPEN TABLE, a young man stopped by and Pastor Keith approached him regarding communion and he accepted. He appeared agitated and troubled, and with the appearance of what some might label as street wise. When asked if there was anything in particular we could offer in prayer for him, he responded, “Yes, I just had a big fight with my wife and stormed out”. We never know where and when we can be led to offer hope to those who don’t see any hope or to offer strength and guidance beyond our understanding.

There are numerous similar opportunities that have come our way at St. John and more on the way. This is really a very visible opportunity to take our “church” from that yellow brick building up those steps, and to connect faces and hearts to those who are seeking. Our mission is to “feed the spiritual and physical needs of the community.” OPEN TABLE on First Fridays is one of the most visible ways we live out our mission in our community. I hope you will join us in this effort. If you are interested talk to me after worship today or let Sarah Melcher, Sue Jelinek or Pastor Keith know.