I came a day late to the Assembly. My nephew, raised a Presbyterian, was being married in the Catholic Church. “We are one in Christ,” said the priest. “There is no sign that says ‘Catholics only’ in this church.” When it came time for communion the Presbyterian side of the family was asked to come forward for a blessing, hands crossed on our hearts.
I got to Minneapolis on Sunday afternoon, in time to sign up to testify on item 16-06: “Baptism a Requirement for Participation in Lord’s Supper.” I know the Directory for Worship speaks of an invitation to the “baptized faithful.” But no one I know ever checks; no one I know ever turns anyone away from the Lord’s Table. This has long been a stumbling block for me.
The Book of Common Worship (1993) offers Biblical invitations with no reference to baptism:
“This is the Lord’s table.
Our Savior invites those who trust him
to share the feast which he has prepared.”
Or Jesus’ comforting words:
“Come unto me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest … .”
And so, on Monday morning, I gave my testimony. I knew that this item came to the Assembly through the Office of Theology and Worship as a conclusion to the work of the Sacraments group that produced the report, “Invitation to Christ.” My congregation is one of 500 who have adopted the five sacramental practices in that report. I had been part of the online discussions of font and table, of welcome and identity. Still I stumble on this: if we welcome everyone to the table and would not turn anyone away, why the emphasis on inviting only the baptized? If God’s grace is absolutely free and unearned, why would there be any prerequisite for the Lord’s table, even baptism? I spoke from my heart about something I feel is central to the faith of the church: the Lord’s table is a welcoming table; it is a table of hospitality, of sheer, boundless grace and mercy.
A member of committee 16 said, “I want to amend that.” I sent him an e-mail with some suggested tweaks. I let it go, trusting the Spirit.
On Tuesday, I went on a field trip to St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville. I saw 20 amazing pages from the St. John’s Bible, a handwritten, contemporary, North American Book of Kells. We attended midday prayer in the abbey church. At the entry to the church is a stunning baptistery. Steps go in and out, down and up for the dying and rising that is enacted in baptism. A huge pool of living water, a great paschal candle, a striking statue of John the Baptist, light from above. From the font, I looked inside, toward the table at the center of the church. At midday worship, from the choir stalls behind the table, I looked back and saw the font bathed in light. As I sat in view of both font and table, I prayed for Committee 16, for their work, for our church and for the church universal.
When I got back, I logged onto PC-biz and saw that Item 16-06 had been transformed. It had a new title. The order had been rearranged. The exclusive invitation had been played down. Welcome and hospitality had been played up. I had been heard. The Spirit had moved. There were others who cared about this subtle but real disconnect between invitation and inclusion.
I observed the plenary as Committee 16 made their report. I was pleased to see both Belhar and Heidelberg move forward. Item 16-06 with its new title “On Baptism and the Lord’s Supper” was presented by the committee moderator. I watched in wonder. It was approved as pastoral advice by acclamation. This pleased me. I had made a small difference, a tiny shift toward welcome and inclusion and hospitality.
As I observed the work of the Assembly through the week, I became convinced that this seemingly insignificant, largely unnoticed action was at the center of all we do. Whether it is the Middle East, or the FOG report, or GANC nominations, or Belhar, or marriage, or ordination, at the center is this question: Is everyone welcome at the table? Are all voices heard? Everything that happens at the Assembly happens because someone cares about it enough to speak and to let the Spirit move. Word and Spirit work together. I am comforted by this and by Jesus’ words:
“Come unto me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens
and I will give you rest.”
REBECCA BUTTON PRICHARD is pastor of Tustin Church and adjunct faculty in Reformed worship, San Francisco Theological Seminary, Southern California.