Open Table Mennonite Fellowship in Goshen, Indiana, joined Central District Conference at their June meetings.
Photo: Open Table Mennonite Fellowship attendees worship and share a meal in the large living room of Faith House in Goshen, Indiana. Photo provided.
While Open Table is fairly new, having begun in 2012 in something like its current shape, it has a much longer history. And unlike a church planting effort that begins with deliberate work to create a new congregation, Open Table emerged from several sources.
More than 10 years ago, a small group—a sprout—of members from Faith Mennonite Church began meeting at Faith House, a large home the congregation owns near central Goshen. In 2012, when Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen considered a building project, a small group from that congregation began testing a different approach to worship, assuming they would still be part of Assembly. For their worship on Sunday mornings at Faith House, they were joined by the Faith House Fellowship group.
Eventually the group realized they were going a different direction with worship and congregational life than the Assembly congregation and began shaping a separate congregational identity.
A foundation of that identity is Acts 2:42, which tells how the early church met in homes, broke bread together, prayed together and learned from the apostles. The congregation has committed itself to weekly study of the Bible and a fellowship meal.
Sally Weaver Glick, a spiritual director, is the “congregational doula,” helping the congregation recognize what God is doing, to name it and “help bring it forth.” They chose the name, Open Table Mennonite Fellowship, to reflect the importance of eating together and their welcome of people at different stages of faith.
The congregation’s statement of “who we are,” begins:
“Open Table Mennonite Fellowship welcomes every individual as a unique and beloved child of God, the Source of life and love. With the Holy Spirit as our guide, we attempt to follow the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. Rooted in the Anabaptist/ Mennonite tradition, yet open to insights from other faith traditions, we seek to join God’s plan for healing the earth and bringing peace and justice to its people.”
Committed to a house-church approach
The congregation wants to remain small enough to continue meeting in a house, starting a second group if they get too big for the space.
“There is something that happens in the house church size,” Weaver Glick said. “There
are disadvantages, too, but there are things that happen there that can’t happen in a larger congregation.”
Each worship service has a leader and includes singing and Scripture reading, and sometimes other readings that relate to the Scripture. They usually follow the Revised Common Lectionary of Scripture texts.
Worship leaders use a variety of strategies to involve the congregation with the Scripture text and there is time in each service for conversation about what worshipers have encountered in the readings, singing or silence.
“Many of us come with a strong tug to contemplative practice, so space for silence shows up in various ways,” Weaver Glick explained. Usually five to ten minutes of each service is planned for silence. Some members appreciate this time to ponder questions or reflect on the readings; some approach this time with centering prayer.
In addition to sharing Scripture and reflections, the congregation also shares communion and a simple meal each Sunday. They retell the story of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples and all are invited to share the bread; the cup is shared by those who have made a commitment to be a follower of Jesus.
A smaller group of Open Table members meets at 9 a.m. and has breakfast together. This group has an even stronger emphasis on silence, Weaver Glick explained.
The congregation consists of members from age 1 to 89, with people in each decade of life in between. Average Sunday attendance is 25–30. A significant segment of the congregation is students from Goshen (Indiana) College, so there is constant ebb and flow in who and how many gather for worship.
From her experience with Open Table Mennonite Fellowship and the forerunners of the congregation, Weaver Glick encourages other small congregations: “For congregations that have been bigger and are losing numbers, the idea of being smaller can feel real negative. Our approach is that there are some real positives about being small, deliberately choosing to be small and to think about alternative ways of growing.”
This article originally ran in the June issue of CDC Focus.
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