by Keith G Jones
Anabaptist Eucharistic theology and practice has had considerable attention in recent years, with several scholarly books being produced on the topic. Then, of course, there has been the translation into contemporary English of the works of the principal first generation Anabaptist theologian, Balthasar Hubmaier, including his Order for the Lord’s Supper and his text on the Pledge of Love. Theologians such as the late James Wm. McClendon Junior have sought to give a more contemporary theological analysis and there has been the recent growth of writing on the theme of the gathering, convictional, intentional, missiological churches, all of which have touched the concern about contemporary Anabaptist worship.
Yet, little has appeared about how communities who are working with this way of doing primary theology and being the gathering, convictional church, actually put some of these insights into practice. This brief article seeks to describe a pattern familiar to two such communities. One is the residential community of IBTS, which meets each Wednesday morning around the table, breaking the word and breaking the bread. The other is the Šárka Valley Community Church, an English-language Czech Baptist Church, which celebrates the meal on Sundays in two ways – as a Eucharistic Celebration and on some Sundays as an Agape meal.
The celebration of the Eucharist and the agape are seen, in Anabaptist fashion, as communal and involve both breaking the bread and breaking the word. A basic order might be described as follows:
Gathering – in words and worship
Sharing – the text of scripture
Breaking – the word is broken open
Response – in extended intercession, people using their native tongues in multi-national, multi-cultural community
The Pledge of love (kiss of peace)
Offering – bread, wine, other gifts.
Gathering round the table
Great Prayer of Thanksgiving – celebrating the mighty acts of God
Breaking and sharing
Dismissal in mission into the world
It is, perhaps, the “stage directions” which reveal the anabaptistic format and drama of these liturgies. People gather in a circle round the table. Not for them the form and distance of pews or rows of chairs with a table set ahead and apart. The way of Gathering is inclusive and participatory. The Word shared is often narrative in format and owes much to insights of transformational preaching.
The worship room has a large map of the world down one side as a reminder of people who will not and cannot pray for themselves . Prayer comes in many forms and many languages – perhaps extempore prayer in ten or fifteen languages. The needs of the world, nations, countries, peoples, are at the heart of this real intercession.
Then the Pledge of Love is shared, either using the Hubmaier text, or some other, or some contemporary form of the Pax. The table is set with a simple single loaf made by one of the members. The wine comes from the vineyards around Mikulov, Moravia, where once Hubmaier’s Anabaptist community enjoyed a peaceful existence. The simple pottery chalice made in Bohemia reminding us of the Anabaptist skills in Haban pottery, such a feature of central Europe and entirely appropriate in the land of the Hussite proto-reformation, which restored the cup to the people.
The classic prayer of thanksgiving rehearses in narrative style, suiting the contemporary gathering church accent on narrative theology, the mighty acts of God in creation and then in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Again, this reflects the Anabaptist desire to see Scripture and faith through the Gospel narrative of the life of Christ, focusing on the Sermon on the Mount. A sharp contrast to the liturgies and prayers of the Catholic and Magisterial Protestant traditions, which focus almost exclusively on the death of Jesus. Then the bread is fractured and sisters and brothers pass the bread round the circle breaking off a piece as they offer it to the next person. Some keep the bread and dip it in the chalice (intinction). Others eat as they receive, then drink the rich Moravian Frankovka wine.
When all have served each other, the cup and bread are placed back on the table. Short prayers of thanksgiving are offered. Perhaps a hymn, or song, or Taizé chant are sung. Then the community is dismissed in mission. Many attending this celebration from beyond this particular gathering community have found the simplicity and spirituality of the occasion highly moving. The architectural setting is simple, though seasonal banners, the tablecloth and napkins changing colour depending on the Christian year, add a holistic dimension helping to emphasis that worship is to engage all the senses.
When the meal takes place in the setting of an agape, of course the bread is broken and shared round the table before the meal begins. Children present have the special privilege of dipping their bread in milk and honey (this is not allowed to the baptized!) helping them see with anticipation the koinonia yet to come. After the meal, gathered from food all have brought, has been shared, the cup passes around the table.
The community of IBTS and of SVCC varies in size week by week, but sometimes over 100 will share quickly, reverently and effectively in the meal on a Wednesday in under one hour – in deference to the early Swiss past of Anabaptists and saluting the Swiss train mentality of timekeeping! 98 sat down to the Harvest Agape this year as a gathering, intentional, convictional community. Around the table testimonies of faith are given. A Czech neighbour, a retired surgeon from Charles University, stood up and told the community about his lifer and how he had met deep love and friendship in this gathering, convictional community.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2004/05 issue of the journal of the Baptist Union Retreat Group (reprinted here by kind permission). Keith Jones is the Rector of the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague