One of the mantras in my life as a pastor has always been, “Get people to the table.” In order to build teams, in order to plan worship, in order to resolve conflict, in order to form community, in order to cast a vision, in order to be a family, we need to sit at the same table. When we are willing to sit across from each other as beloved children of God, claimed by undeserved grace, miracles happen.
Over the last several months as a new district superintendent, I’ve discovered that occasional complaints come across my desk. Church members have issues with pastors, pastors have concerns with church members, and church members have problems with each other. Many of these complaints come to me because people are not able or willing to talk with each other and want someone else to solve “the problem”.
When a church member contacts me with a concern, I always ask 2 questions. “Have you talked with your pastor?” And “Have you contacted the chairperson of your SPRC?” Certainly, there are times when I need to be a mediator. However, my hope is that when church members and pastors engage in simple, good and honest conversation, they create the space where healing can take place.
At the District Superintendents Orientation a few weeks ago in Lake Junaluska, we were privileged to hear Rev. Tom Porter speak. Porter is the executive director for JustPeace, a center for mediation and conflict transformation in the United Methodist Church.
After so many years of bringing others to the table, I finally received from Tom Porter the image for which I had been unconsciously seeking. He said that the table of the Lord is the primary symbol for conflict resolution. It is when we come forward for communion that barriers are removed and bridges are built. At the table, we find the place, the time and the power to heal relationships.
Consider: the Invitation to come is for all who love our Lord Jesus Christ and desire to live in peace and harmony with their brothers and sisters.
In the Prayer of Confession, we admit in humility our shortcomings and failure to be who God created us to be.
In The Peace, we are invited to offer signs of reconciliation and love to all those around us, not just to some.
In the Prayer of Thanksgiving, we remember that Jesus offered bread and the cup to all the disciples, even to the one about to betray him. Later in the prayer, we proclaim that we are one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.
As we come forward to receive the sacrament, we bring all of our issues to the table: political, theological, social, spiritual and relational. We stretch out our hands in supplication to receive the bread and cup, admitting that we need God’s help. We stand or kneel next to those we love as well as those with whom we are in conflict, opening ourselves to the healing of relationships. We are on holy ground – higher ground.
Finally, in the closing prayer, we offer ourselves as God’s instruments of transformation to a broken and needy world. Having been fed with the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation through an open table, we are now empowered to be agents of forgiveness and reconciliation not only out in the world, but right in our own churches and families. We are invited to go in peace.
Whom do you need to bring to the table right now in your church? What relationships might be healed by sitting together in a circle to listen, confess, forgive and reconcile?
“As John Wesley said, Holy Communion is a converting, not merely a confirming ordinance. It is not a reward for penance and merit but a means by which God transforms us more fully into God’s image. Ultimately, it does offer the place, the time, the ritual, and the spiritual power for healing relationships and doing the work of reconciliation in this world.” Tom Porter
For more information, go to www.JUSTPEACEumc.org
P.S. Dave Selleck is leading a team of 25 persons to New Orleans on Sept. 15. They will be repairing several homes and work on short, immediate projects. Members of the mission team are from Lakeside, North Muskegon, Crestwood, Ravenna, and Wyoming Park UMC churches, Bethany Reformed and several Catholic churches. Please keep Dave and the team in your prayers.