The “Table and Font” conversation has been taking place in this church for this past year in response to a memorial that was sent to the 2013 Churchwide Assembly. From this memorial and the Church Council’s actions, this study guide was put together in the fall of 2014 and this church was encouraged by our presiding bishop and the executive for worship to engage in this conversation. Roughly 300 responses were submitted (individual, congregational and synodical). These responses showed a great diversity of practice and opinion on the sacramental practices of the ELCA.
The ELCA has been guided by “The Use of the Means of Grace: A Statement on The Practice of Word and Sacrament” since 1997. This document set out the sacramental practices of our church and addressed good stewardship for the care and fidelity of God’s gifts of grace. This statement, while describing preferred practices, noted “this statement grows out of the church’s concern for healthy pastoral action and strong congregational mission. It does not address our practice of Word and Sacrament out of antiquarian or legalistic interests but rather to ground the practice of our church in the Gospel and to encourage good order within our church.” (Background 4a)
We are a church that centers itself on the central things of our faith – water, word and meal. These central things point us to Christ who is our center. We remember that “in every celebration of the means of grace, God acts to show forth both the need of the world and the truth of the Gospel. In every gathering of Christians around the proclaimed Word and the holy sacraments, God acts to empower the Church for mission. Jesus Christ, who is God’s living bread come from heaven, has given his flesh to be the life of the world. This very flesh, given for the life of all, is encountered in the Word and Sacraments” (Principle 51).
The executive for worship on behalf of the Office of the Presiding Bishop presented a full report to the Church Council at its November meeting and recommended that there is no further need to research the practices of congregations with respect to “The Use of the Means of Grace” and sees this report as the conclusion of its work related to the 2012 memorial and the subsequent actions by the 2013 Churchwide Assembly and the 2014 Church Council.
We give thanks to each of you individually and congregationally that engaged this conversation and submitted your feedback. We pray that this process of engagement was fruitful for your individual context and that it allowed each to participate more fully in the richness, which is our sacramental practice statement, “The Use of the Means of Grace.”