Bishop tells candidates ‘table manners’ matter



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Bishop tells candidates ‘table manners’ matter

By Derek Maul | June 23, 2010 {1188}

LAKELAND — It’s hard to imagine church taking place in a venue used for ice skating and basketball games, but the arena at the Lakeland Center was transformed into hallowed ground June 11 during the 2010 Florida Annual Conference when a group of women and men took the next step on the journey of called ministry.

Bishop Timothy Whitaker tells candidates preparing to be ordained elder they have a responsibility to “duly administer” the sacrament of communion. That means looking around to see who is — and who is not — at the table. “The sacrament is not duly administered,” he said, “until the table looks like the community.” Photo by Dave Summerill. Photo #10-1485. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

During each annual session, candidates are ordained, licensed and commissioned.

But before they say their vows, receive certificates or licenses, or don their new stoles, Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker has a word with the laity and clergy gathered — but particularly those being presented — about their responsibilities as members of God’s church.

The center of church life

Whitaker began the evening’s message by reading from Luke 14:1-24, which features Christ’s dinner visit with a prominent Pharisee. Jesus noticed how people jockeyed for position at the table and offered commentary on the table manners he witnessed by telling the parable of the great banquet.

“You will be given authority in the church,” Whitaker said to those being ordained. “Authority to proclaim the word and administer the sacraments. … Everything the church is, is contained in the sacrament of the Eucharist.”

The ordained elder’s responsibility, he said, is to “duly administer” the sacrament and lead the people in both understanding and living the Lord’s Supper.

“It’s more than a ritual,” Whitaker said. “It is the center of the church’s life; the place where we enter into communion with our Risen Lord; where we enter into communion with one another. ... Your task is not just a matter or ordering liturgy, but helping the church live out the meaning.”

Whitaker pointed out that Jesus spent a lot of time at the table with others, telling many stories about table manners. Christians learn about practicing a way of life at the Lord’s Table, he said, and that life features two important characteristics: humility and generosity.

A community of all

“When we gather, we should practice humility,” Whitaker said. “Christ said we should seek the lowest places of honor at the table. Everyone who comes is equal to everyone else.”

Candidates to be commissioned provisional elder and deacon stand while lay and clergy members and guests respond affirmatively when asked by Whitaker if they trust the candidates “are called by God’s grace to be commissioned” and will “uphold” the candidates in their ministry. Photo by Dave Summerill. Photo #10-1486. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

Whitaker offered a series of couplets to illustrate the point that status should never be an issue at the communion table: high office and unemployed; doctorate and illiterate; rich and poor; laborer and landowner; old and young; black, white, yellow and brown; men and women.

“All are equal in the presence of the Lord,” he said.

The practice of generosity, Whitaker added, is very much a responsibility in “duly administering” the sacrament.

Duly administering, he noted, means looking around to see who is — and who is not — at the table. Do they represent the generosity of Jesus as host? Rather than depending on sophisticated demographics, he said, simply looking to see who might be missing is sufficient.

The question to consider, Whitaker said, is whether or not the table looks like the community.

“We who are leaders should guide our people to reach out,” he said. “We ordained just one deacon tonight, and that reminds (us) that the church is called to service in the world. The sacrament is not duly administered until the table looks like the community.”

“When we really believe what happens,” he added, “it means we have to live differently and learn how to practice solidarity with the poor.”

Global implications

Charity lies at the core of spirituality, Whitaker said, but there must also be “doing justice.”

Bread and wine are gifts from God, he said, but they also come from the work of the hands of people. The bread represents an entire economy — planting, harvesting, baking and distributing.

The Rev. David Allen is ordained an elder — one of 26 men and 18 women licensed, commissioned and ordained during the evening service. The average age of the 18 candidates ordained elder and deacon was 44. Photo by Linda Beavers. Photo #10-1487. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

“When we offer bread, we had better be sure that the economy is a just one,” Whitaker said. “There’s an old saying, ‘We can’t celebrate the Eucharist with stolen bread.’ We must come to the table with the commitment to practice social justice. From the beginning, the church
has celebrated the Lord’s Supper, and around the table we learn to live the Christian life.”

Whitaker broadened the discussion to a worldwide perspective by asking how Christians in the “affluent West share the same Lord’s Supper with poorer Christians abroad.”

“If we celebrate with proper table manners, we’ll learn better to share and practice social justice in the name of our host, Jesus Christ our Lord,” he said. “We eat here, and now we’re looking forward to the coming feast in the Kingdom of God and committing ourselves now to showing this kingdom in our very midst.”

Whitaker suggested that elders, deacons and the whole people of God should pray for guidance and for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to celebrate communion and live by what Jesus taught.

“Go out to the roads and country lanes,” he said, quoting from Luke 14, “and bring in the poor the handicapped and the blind … now and forever.”

Invitation

Forty-four candidates were licensed, commissioned and ordained. The average age of those ordained elder and deacon was 44.

The Rev. Catherine Fluck-Price prays with a layperson after candidates were licensed, commissioned and ordained. Nearly 30 people accepted Whitaker’s invitation to individuals considering a call to ministry to join him, Fluck-Price or the Rev. David Dodge, executive director of the conference Center for Clergy Excellence, at the front of the arena for a moment of prayer. Photo by Dave Summerill. Photo #10-1488. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

Whitaker then invited anyone who might be considering a call to ministry to gather with him or two other clergy available near the stage for a moment of prayer.

“I encourage all of you to be Christ’s presence in a hurting world,” he said. “I wonder if it might be a less unbelieving world as we move into the future? God sent the Holy Spirit and the Spirit will not leave.

“Is the Spirit nudging you to be one of these leaders — for a different kind of church, a new paradigm in the future? Please come.”

Nearly 30 people did, publicly declaring their response to the bishop’s invitation.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Maul is an author and freelance writer based in Valrico, Fla.




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