All posts by Julie Ferguson

Why a Meal? Where’s the Teaching?

NYNO’s theology emphasizes the body of Christ, family, hospitality. It is hard to miss the centrality of all those things in the gospels. Luke notes that Jesus came eating and drinking (Luke 7:34). Part of what drives us is our dissatisfaction with ‘all-age worship’ services which usually cater well to the needs of one group of people. Perhaps the toddlers win, or the teenagers, or primary-school aged children. Alternatively, the service is enjoyable for adults, and children of all ages are overlooked and their needs forgotten about. How do we as NYNO attempt to do something different? Is there another way of doing things where we can all meet together, and no-one is overlooked, and everyone joins their hearts in worship and is uplifted and has a sense of belonging to the body of Christ, joined with him and with one another? Is this pie in the sky?

Each time we have met together on a Sunday, we have emphasized the centrality of the Lord’s supper. Our first innovation in that meeting place was to change the seating so we were all gathered around the table. This eliminated the sense of someone being at the ‘head’ of the meeting. It is a visual spatial sign that we are all equals as we gather before our Lord. We have emphasized in our teaching that communion is central to our faith, and we have made clear that we will persist in gathering around the table even when we are not able to partake.

Another concern which might arise with Sunday worship in this form is teaching. How do we achieve good teaching for all ages in one gathering? How do we make sure that the youngest child to the oldest pillar of the faith, who has known Jesus for eighty years has some sustenance? We believe that the answer for us as NYNO is to make our meal-gatherings the main meeting. We gather around the table; we serve one another; we take communion; we recite liturgy; we worship with our songs; we are all literally singing from the same hymn-sheet. Turning people into strangers is one way to make people distant, less dangerous. There is no way to hide in the back pew if we all sit side by side, united in Christ and to one another, from the youngest to the oldest. In these practices there is lots of ‘teaching’. Each time we meet we are reciting, praying and sacramentally participating in the basis of our faith.

It’s possible that some may look at our gatherings and question whether we have enough ‘proper solid bible teaching.’ Several things can be said to this. Firstly, we are not against teaching. If your gathering has willing able teachers, by all means let them teach. We are anxious however, that those who do not have such gifts from God should not be impeded from developing their own churches. We hope that our corporate acts of worship will be deeply significant and beautiful and rich.

In a situation that is diversely aged and there is a need for age-specific education, for children and adults, it may be most appropriate to provide that somewhere other than in the main meal gathering. Our reasoning for this is that adult oriented sermon can be difficult for children and their parents. Equally, a child oriented presentation can be dissatisfactory for adults. With our approach, separate ‘Sunday school’ classes for particular age groups could meet before the main Sunday meeting, or at another time in the week, to study the word together. Perhaps they will focus on a book of the bible, or a topic, and use different media as appropriate such as storytelling, drama or Godly Play.

All that to say, our meetings around the table are the most important part of our fellowship. They are what define us and make us different. Hopefully, they are the distinctive part of what make us truly inter-generational. Teaching need not be compromised. It will just look different than a forty-five minute sermon for the adults, or a children’s talk, or separate children’s church, or an all-age service which is all about primary-school aged kids and leaves nothing for the grown-ups.

Julie and Matthew

1 Corinthians 10:14-22 – Symbolic Seating (Meeting Posts 3)


The following sermon was given at a Sunday service, at which we had changed our changed our seating arrangements. Before we had a familiar arrangement of speaker and lectern at the front and congregation facing the speaker. Our new format had us gathering in a circle, around a table laid with the communion elements. We wanted to emphasise that in the church there is no position of power; nobody is higher or lower than anyone else. On our little table we laid a loaf of bread, a cup of wine, a cross and the open Bible. All of us sit facing each other across these symbols. The changes in our meeting space were a physical representation of the symbolism which is at our core – that we gather around the communion table, Christ is at the centre, and we are united one with another.

1 Corinthians 10:14-22

We read 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 together in both the ESV and The Message.

Therefore my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

15-18 I assume I’m addressing believers now who are mature. Draw your own conclusions: When we drink the cup of blessing, aren’t we taking into ourselves the blood, the very life, of Christ? And isn’t it the same with the loaf of bread we break and eat? Don’t we take into ourselves the body, the very life, of Christ? Because there is one loaf, our many-ness becomes one-ness—Christ doesn’t become fragmented in us. Rather, we become unified in him. We don’t reduce Christ to what we are; he raises us to what he is. That’s basically what happened even in old Israel—those who ate the sacrifices offered on God’s altar entered into God’s action at the altar.

Why Chairs Matter

Firstly, we feel it was important to mention what the sacraments are for in order to give some context. They are all signs of covenant, that is, of God’s promises and his will for humanity. Augustine called the sacraments ‘visible words’. They are visible and tangible signs which bolster our weak faith. God imparts spiritual things through visible ones. We want to emphasise two things in particular – our participation in Christ when we take communion, and how we are joined with one another as we partake.

The signs – the cup and the bread – are symbolic, but they are also, mysteriously, far more than just symbols. A symbol that is nothing more than a symbol is dead. But when the symbol points us to something larger than ourselves, something eternal, the symbol has life.

We don’t know how, but by the holy spirit, we feed on Christ when we participate in the cup and loaf. Our minds can’t grasp how, but by faith we believe that something profound and beautiful and significant takes place when we take the cup. This seems to me so characteristic of biblical spirituality- the ordinary, the humdrum and the miraculous, supernatural are on a single continuum.

We want to emphasise that it is, of course, possible to participate in Christ without the sacrament, but that it is impoverished. The sacrament is central to all of our gatherings even when we don’t partake because the act makes Christ central. Communion is a moment of personal encounter with Jesus. John 6:56 say this: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in Him.’ Our participation in the cup and loaf, our communion, is an intimate moment when each of us meets with Jesus and is wholly centred on Him. The reference to idolatry in first verse is a warning to keep God at the centre of our worship – at the centre of our individual lives, and common life.

When we participate in the cup, we are not only participating in Christ in the here and now, but we are on the cusp of eternity as ‘we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes’ as it says in 1 Corinthians 11:26. Communion is a taster of the redemption to come. It helps us to see what lies ahead and helps us to already participate in it in a limited way. As it was a Sunday in advent, we began our service by singing O come, O come Emmanuel. We expressed our longing for Jesus to come. We talked about being ‘hallelujah people’, living after Christ’s resurrection, but that we are also ‘advent people’, waiting and longing for Christ’s return in glory and victory. We live in that sure hope.

Having talked about what it means to participate in Christ, we move on to talk about what it means to participate with one another. Again, our new way of sitting together has symbolic significance. We want to emphasise that our participation in Christ is a communal activity. The various meanings of the key word, koinonia, are communion, fellowship, participation, sharing in, contribution/gift, and presence. All these facets of that one word express our joining with one another as we participate in Christ together.

Some traditions end their Eucharist service with these words: ‘Grant that we who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his holy spirit and become one body, one spirit in Christ.’ There we touch the heart of the mystery of community.

In some mysterious way, when we participate in Christ’s cup, and have communion with Him, we are joined together as brothers and sisters. We participate in the feast together. It is joint participation. Thus, as Jean Vanier would say, community and family become closely intertwined, because aiming at a common unity strives to overcome brokenness, divisiveness, and, ultimately gaining wholeness with each of the members, with their environment, and with God.

So, as we are participating in Christ, communally, being somehow joined with one another, we are being built by the Holy Spirit into community, into the body.

NYNO Church Meetings and Body Theology (Meeting Posts 1)

NYNO has been operational since July 2013. Much of our time has been spent building relationships within the sheltered housing complex in which we are based. Getting to know the residents, their families and the staff who work there is an important part of building a community which is diverse, strong, warm, all-embracing, welcoming – in short, Christ-like.

In the background, we have been studying the theology which underpins all of this – namely, the theology of the ‘body’. Our studies have taken us to 1 Corinthians, where Paul makes plain the nature of church as one body, many parts, comprising diverse ages, nationalities, gifts, interests and denominations. We have spent four consecutive meetings talking about this body theology – why it is important; how it shapes our meetings; how it has significance for us as part of the wider church in Aberdeen, the world, and our church history.

We have emphasised the centrality of celebrating communion together. When a minister is available to take communion, it is part of our meeting. When that is not possible, we seat ourselves around a table with the elements visible, and reiterate their significance to us as the body. We have talked at length about what it means to participate in Christ and with one another, and have grappled with the mystery in it all.

The following posts are an attempt to condense our thoughts and teachings. Check out our updated book list to see what we’ve been reading.