The Life Table: An Alternative to Communion

I’ve had Communion just about any way you can imagine it.

Standing, sitting, kneeling. With a friend, in a group, by myself. Passing the plate, waiting in line, attending a station.

I’ve munched wafers, crackers, and big bread-chunks. Sipped wine from a chalice, and drunk juice from a thimble.

I considered gin and birthday cake once.

I’ve had it blessed by the hands of a priest and also taken it fresh out of the bag—untouched by holy hands.

With such opportunity for variety, one might think it strange to create an alternative to Communion. But, that’s just what we did last week.

It went over rather well, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Why Replace Communion?

Communion is a worship curator’s dream-ritual for its communal, participatory, and multi-sensory aspects. tweet this

Why, then, would we want to create an alternative?

Consider these reasons…

  • Your community doesn’t do weekly Communion, but you’d like another eating ritual to use on some of those inbetween weeks.
  • You love worship actions that are multisensory and want more options that specifically involve taste.
  • You find yourself in an unfamiliar or remote meeting location (like on a retreat) and want to do Communion but have no wine or juice. (Of course, you could also just make sure to always have one of these handy.)
  • You decide that it’s probably better to avoid offering wine at church when both your personal relationships and the statistics suggest that 10-15% of your congregation may have problems with alcohol consumption.

Somebody, Get Me a Priest!

These are all good reasons for an alternate ritual. But, my particular reason is different.

I’m curating a weekly evening service at an Episcopal church. I am not a priest, which means that in this context I cannot simply pull together some bread and wine and make it happen. Of course, our rector is happy to oblige the blessing of the elements for our service, but this poses a practical inconvenience.

We decided to let this minor challenge spark our creativity. The result?: The Life Table. In this post, you’ll find a list of necessary materials for this ritual, along with a litany that explains the ritual’s content and actions.

The Life Table

What you’ll need

  • A small table
  • A large, clear-glass pitcher
  • Freshly sliced cucumber and/or lemon (optional)
  • Large ice cubes (optional)
  • A stack of short, rigid, clear-plastic cups
  • Good tasting water (probably not from the tap)
  • A platter that fits your aesthetic
  • A fresh loaf of bread


[The Leader calls attention to the table and invites the People to listen and respond.]

Jesus said to the woman at the well: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

John 4:13-14

At this the woman replied,

Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty.

John 4:15

To the crowds that followed after him, Jesus said: “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

John 6:32-33

At this, the crowd replied,

Sir, give us this bread always.

John 6:34

Jesus says to us—as he said to those who sought him:

“I am the bread of life.
Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.”

“And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”

John 6:35, Revelation 22:17

[The Leader invites the People to rise and share the good bread and fresh water.]

©2012 Eric Herron and Amy Pringle—Creative Commons Attribution License.

Download a PDF of The Life Table litany and needs-list.

Variations on a Ritual

There are a number of variations you might try—especially if you want to contextualize this ritual for a particular worship theme or for your community, in general.

  1. SHARE IT. Invite people to share the bread and water together rather than alone. It can be done in pairs or in small groups of three or more. Worshipers can take turns serving the water and bread to each other.
  2. OFFER SIMPLE PRAYERS. Give worshipers a simple prayer to say out loud to each other as they share the food. Something like: “Never be hungry” as the bread is taken and “Never Thirst” as the water is poured.
  3. SERVE YOURSELF. Once your community gets used to this ritual you might make it a regular station, always present somewhere in your worship space. Put a paper copy of the litany on the table. At the beginning of your gatherings, remind people that they can attend The Life Table for physical and spiritual refreshment at any time during the meeting.
  4. AVOID PRISON. To ensure this doesn’t become known as the “prison ritual” (plain ol’ bread and water) try using various kinds of bread and different presentations of water. Use bread with seeds and nuts or some sweet, soft Hawaiian bread. Your local bakery is the limit. Try water infused with different natural flavors like mint or lime. Or, why not try water with a little fizz?

A Ritual for (Almost) Everyone

The Life Table is similar to Communion in several ways:

  • It is centered on Christ.
  • The symbolic elements are familiar and powerful.
  • It’s based on the words of Jesus in the Gospels.
  • It highlights our sense of taste—as well as smell, sight, and touch.

There is even a mystical element—the idea that the spirit of Christ is enlivening our souls whenever we drink the “living water” and eat the “heavenly bread.”

The biggest difference between this ritual and Communion is there is no long history of theological discord. Wars have never been fought over it. It requires no priestly blessing and threatens to improperly entice no one. It is a ritual for anytime and for everyone.

Except, come to think of it, the gluten-intolerant worshiper. Hmm… I hadn’t thought about that until just now. I guess it’s back to the drawing board!

Your Turn: Do you have any food rituals other than Communion that you use in your worship? Leave a Comment.

image credit: “Purple” @2009, by Jenny Downing

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Eric Herron About Eric Herron

Eric is co-founder of Clayfire Media. Get more from Eric on Twitter and Facebook.

  • dwsmith


    • Eric Donald Herron

      Thanks for reading David. ;-)

  • RedLivingstone

    Your request was for “food rituals” other than Communion. A meal is part of our worship. It’s not like we eat, then have worship. The meal is an intentional element of our worship gathering. We do like to get creative with our meal, and not just with the menus. From having the tables in a huge “circle” and passed the dishes family-style to having the punters prepare the meal themselves. The worship theme is expressed in the meal style/menu about 40% of the time, but the act of eating and sharing is 100% part of the worship.
    We have several members that have food allergies or intolerances. We always have something that is vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free. We have a couple that would always come but never eat. They explained that there are so many things that their bodies couldn’t digest well and they eat before they come. I asked her to give me a list of those foods and she laughed! She said the last time someone asked her for the list they were so intimidated that it embarassed her. But after several weeks of my reminding her she finally gave me a list of 30+ ingredients that were on her “no” list, her husband only had 6 items on his list. Needless to say, it was a challenge at first to prepare a meal that has at least two items that they could enjoy! But when someone with severe food limitations is accepted and provided for it is received as a significant affirmation of their belonging and welcome. That’s a church family.
    As far as our communion ritual, we always have communion bread and red grape juice available everyweek as a “station”, with both regular and gluten-free flat bread. And then throughout the year we highlight communion specifically and participate as a group in some creative way.

    • Eric Donald Herron

      Thanks for sharing Red. I like your style, with the meal as worship. This is how it is at Tribe of LA, too. My favorite way to do it!

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