Keith Jones begins his 1999 Whitley Lecture with an account of the Lord's Supper in a Baptist churches in the 1960s, which reflects how much has changed in fifty years.
The organ notes died away. We had just finished singing a fine hymn of commissioning. The minister pronounced the benediction and walked down the right hand aisle to greet any worshippers leaving evening worship. The deacons, the men in their dark Sunday suits, all made of good West Riding woollen cloth, the women in smart coats with sober hats, left their seats and went into the vestry. The organist began to play 'When I survey the wondrous cross.' Some worshippers scurried away, anxious to leave the chapel. Others moved from their seats in the side aisles to the centre, every alternate row. There was no talking, just the sombre organ music.
The minister walked back down the aisle, through the vestry door and emerged moments later with the deacons who went and sat on the platform behind the communion table, equal numbers either side. One lady deacon, always a lady, took a larger white cloth from the communion table to reveal two trays of tiny glass cups filled with diluted Ribera blackcurrant juice and two silver plates containing small cubes of white processed bread.
The minister 'fenced the table' with scriptural sentences and a reading from the Letter to the Corinthians about those who ate and drank unworthily. One deacon then stood and offered a general prayer about the bread. In fact, my memory recalls those prayers as being varied, moving between adoration, confession and intercession with dexterity, though not always with clarity. The deacons distributed the bread passing up and down the rows of pews. Each person present took a small cube and ate it. The silence was profound, broken only by the occasional sound of a cough. Then another prayer: occasionally this might take the form of a poem, or insight from a popular Christian writer. Thereafter the trays were handed round. Perhaps the organist would play something from 'Olivet to Calvary'. We would be instructed to drink the cup 'until He comes.' The Ribera often irritated the back of a dry throat and there would be a bout of coughing. Remaining seated and singing quietly we would conclude the service with a hymn such as that by Horatius Bonar, 'Here O my Lord.'
As a teenager I came to several conclusions from this experience. The occasion was a sombre one. Some people did not like to be present. It was adjunct to the main service. There was a strong accent on memorial, on death and on discipline. I also perceived a lack of clarity about the focus of the prayers, which often mirrored those in the 'main', or preceding service, which had been uttered by the minister. I was told, of course, during my discipleship training, that the meal was primarily for believers. It was best not to consume 'the elements' until after baptism and that the meal was a time to remember the death of Jesus on the cross - a 'mere memorial' as earlier Baptist writers had declared.
Now I hasten to say this is my recollection; the images which impressed themselves on my mind as a new first-generation Baptist coming to terms with faith in the 1960s. I am sure some who were present on those occasions would soon bear testimony to facts I have missed and which would present a more accurate and rounded picture. But I do not think it is untrue of a typical post-war communion service amongst Baptists ... Indeed there are still churches where that pattern exists. Elsewhere the effects of the work of the later Dr Ernest A. Payne and Revd S. F. Winward had begun to have the effect of encouraging churches to partake of the 'Supper' in the main act of worship.
Keith G. Jones, A Shared Meal and a Common Table. Some Reflections on the Lord's Supper and Baptists. The 1999 Whitley Lecture (Oxford: Whitley, 1999), pp.5-7.