by Joan Huyser-Honig
Let down and a little lonely. If that’s how you feel after communion, it’s possible that other worshipers in your church might also wonder after the Eucharist, “Is that all there is?”
Rather than blame yourself or decide that communion is meaningless, consider whether your worship space sends a visual message that contradicts your theology of the Lord’s Supper.
“Read” your space
Before designing a new sanctuary, Unity Christian Reformed Church in Prinsburg, Minnesota, studied how church architecture speaks. Jeff Fisher, pastor of teaching and spiritual formation, explains that their original platform was small. So, on most Sundays, the communion table was pushed behind the organ bench.
“We learned that hiding our communion table non-verbally communicated (though maybe only subconsciously for many) that we did not value the Lord’s Supper. It looked like Jesus’ institution of the sacrament had no place in our worship, except on the Sundays we actually took communion,” Fisher says.
Studying worship space and worship furniture convinced Unity that it was “quite odd” to cover their wooden communion table with a cloth. It was just as odd to use the communion table as a shelf for other visuals…and then set up a folding table to hold trays of cups and bread on Communion Sundays.
“Our new worship space will have enough room for the table. Every week, whether or not we partake, we’ll have that visual reminder of the death, resurrection, and return of Jesus. For now, we often have the table on the floor in front of the platform. This communicates ‘God with us’ and ‘God among us,’ ” Fisher says.
Emphasize the communal aspect
Notice what pulls your attention when you walk into your church sanctuary.
If cords, speakers, and music stands dominate the view…or towering screens project musicians as larger than life…then ask questions. What does this arrangement say about who or what is most important in worship? What does it convey about how or whether people in the seats or pews take part in worship? What does it imply about who calls you to or leads worship?
Such discussions often prompt churches to build or remodel their sanctuaries in ways that accent communal and celebrative aspects of communion.
Mark A. Torgerson, author of An Architecture of Immanence: Architecture for Worship and Ministry Today, notes these key design elements for communion-friendly worship spaces:
• Visibility. Worship sightlines focus on a central space “where the place for the Word of God (usually the pulpit) and place for the table are two major focal points.”
• Proximity. Churches choose half round, fan shaped, or three-sided seating layouts so worshipers feel connected. Sitting so you see other people’s faces, Torgerson explains, “highlights the sense of being together and building relationships—instead of privatizing the Lord’s Supper.”
• Accessibility. Wide center and side aisles create ample space between rows and around the communion table for presiders, servers, communicants, and people who use walkers or wheelchairs.
If your church has traditional pews, Torgerson suggests removing the front pews and replacing other pews with moveable chairs.
You can experiment with distribution methods so the congregation experiences communion bodily—meaning as a body and in their bodies. At Unity CRC in Prinsburg, elders sometimes serve people in their seats and all partake at the same time. More often worshipers come forward in successive circles or kneel at the platform or get served at stations placed around the sanctuary.
Like many CRC congregations, they’ve found that communion feels less cerebral when people see festive banners, hear the words of institution, smell the wine or grape juice, pull off and taste a bite of bread from a large loaf, and sing together.