I recently completed a table and lectern for the newly renovated Walter Muelder Chapel at Boston University School of Theology. Working with Dean Mary Elizabeth Moore and Professor Carl Daw, a well-known hymn writer, we developed a plan for furniture that would fit in this modest space. I was pleased to be constructing these pieces for a worship space named in honor of Walter Muelder, whom I knew through my work in the Society of Christian Ethics as well as through meetings with him while I was teaching in Boston.
The table, only 36 inches across, is a round double-dropleaf table with a base of walnut and maple laminated together. The top is birds-eye maple with inlays of walnut, African mahogany, and birch. The round table draws the community into a circle reflecting the processes of restorative justice, peace-building, and reconciliation. The curved leg design evokes the sense of arms uplifted in praise.
The inlay of loaves and fishes draws us back to the original miracle of feeding, teaching, and communion by the shores of the Sea of Galilee. In the church at Tabgha in the Galilee that commemorates that miracle, a floor mosaic depicts only four loaves, as in this design, telling us that the assembled congregation must always complete the miracle anew by bring their own gifts to the table. Though I had a picture of this mosaic from my visit there in 2008, I had never reflected on the theological meaning of having only four loaves in the design. While worshippers would have to be jogged to notice and reflect on the difference, I found it meaningful to think about the ongoing work of sharing that the four-loaf design implies.
The dropleaves are supported by four pull-out supports. The supports telescope in a sliding dovetail in order to accommodate the width of the table. The top is finished with seven coats of clear acrylic and a wax finish. The base is finished with six coats of a citrus-based wipe-on varnish.
The lectern is made of black walnut and bird’s eye maple from the mountains near our home. In the center of the tablet are crossed mandorlas enclosing a circle of purpleheart. The mandorla is an intersection of two circles and has been used throughout Christian art to frame Mary, the mother of Jesus, as well as Jesus as the Christ. Because of its shape, it has deep associations with birth and rebirth. These crossed mandorlas reach out to enclose a worship gathering in circle and draw it to the heart of sacrifice and new life. This is a design I have used before. Though I doubt that it is unique, I think of it as another kind of signature that embodies some core principles of my theology in wood.
The lectern folds when the rear legs are pressed forward, releasing them from a small catch under the rear of the tablet. It can then be placed against the wall displaying the mandorla design to the gathering.