Church sets the table for the saints
By Lindsay Peyton
All Saints Day is sometimes overlooked in United Methodist congregations, but the holy day was a favorite of John Wesley. In 1789 the founder of the Methodist movement described it as “a day that I peculiarly love.” Cypress UMC, Houston also holds All Saints Day in high regard and hosts a beautiful service to honor the occasion.
“We plan for All Saints Day like we prepare for Advent or for Easter,” Senior Pastor Tony McCollum said. “We start a month or two ahead.”
Long banquet tables are placed in front of the church, right behind the kneeling rail. Crystal goblets and festive place settings decorate the tabletops.
Framed pictures and a place card honor each saint at the table. When the names are called during liturgy, a bell tolls. A video camera focuses on the place settings, and the imagery is projected during the service.
When congregants approach for communion, they are right next to the tables. “The idea is that we are all part of the great community of saints and the heavenly family,” McCollum said.
John Wesley believed that All Saints Day is an opportunity to show gratitude for our predecessors in the faith. McCollum refers to Hebrews 12: “. . . we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.”
The pastor explains that All Saints Day provides an opportunity to remember that all are part of “one church.” It is a day to celebrate fellow Christians, to pray for the followers of Christ and to honor inspirational members of your own church family. “It’s a high and holy day,” McCollum said.
He has created special celebrations for All Saints for a decade at past appointments and most recently at Cypress UMC, for the past four years. The first time, a few families in the congregation would set the table for their loved ones.
Over the years, the methods have changed, but the idea has remained. “We have tweaked it and added to it over time,” McCollum said. “Now it’s an altar scape and video. We get a big, heavy-hand bell that tolls with each name. It’s sight and sound.”
And it creates a sense of awe for all gathered in the congregation for the observance.
Currently, Cypress UMC also sends personalized invitations to the families of the deceased. “This is often a culmination of the cycle for many folks,” McCollum said. “They’ve dealt with death and the funeral. Then this brings it to a close – and marks it in a special way in the life of the church.”
He wants All Saints to serve as a reminder that their loved ones are part of the Heavenly feast. “When we come to communion, we get to join with them,” he added. “This is a day that connects the church of Heaven above with the church of earth below.”
McCollum encourages other congregations to develop their own way to honor the holy day and add it to their calendar. “Get creative,” he said. “Find a way to make it much more than a reading of names. Let it become a key celebration.”