June 9, 2022
Much of what we see in the Gospels happens around a meal or in general food. Whether it was Simon Peter’s home, the wedding at Cana, the feeding of 5,000, Zacchaeus’ house and many others; sharing of food was a common means of sharing the good news of the Kingdom. There is food involved in every resurrection account and Jesus founded the church in a sacramental, covenantal meal. If Jesus had a Day-Timer recording his activities, we would see that he prayed, taught, performed miracles and healings, and he ate.
Somewhere along the way the church lost the centrality of the meal as ministry. Since the Reformation, church became a place you went on Sunday to primarily be taught and sufficiently catechized.
Many Christians are rediscovering the value of the meal. We call this movement Dinner Church. The Dinner Church mission is to recapture the table as a place where relationships are built, connections are made, the Gospel is shared, faith is cultivated and lives are changed. This was normative in the early church and it must be so again as the way forward for the church’s mission in a changed world. This kind of hospitality opens doors, hearts and minds. In a world where people are constantly choosing sides, a meal is a place where we can look across the table, have meaningful engagement and say to one another, your life matters. Here's a secular group called Eating Together that gets it:
The Dinner Church format is quite simple and taps something that most churches are already good at, putting on a potluck. We have a meal with missional intention; we will tell a Jesus Story, have some discussion around the table, say some prayers and mostly love and serve our neighbors with kindness and generosity.
We’ve done a few of these at Christ Episcopal Church in Cedar Key, Florida where I serve as the Vicar. It is growing and we are honing our craft. On the last Sunday in May we held a Community Fish Fry (a native event for this island community in the Gulf of Mexico). This one had some other elements attached to it but that did not matter, what we saw at previous community dinners happened again. People engaged, told stories, laughed and shared in an authentic fellowship. This is how the world changes when people come together and that is most easily done around a meal.
Sadly, in our culture the church is often suspect. People are often unwilling to cross the threshold into a foreign format. There are too many questions about what we do and why we do it in terms of our worship, preaching, music and more. But a Dinner? Come on! This is a cultural trend many restaurants, coffee shops are weaving some community tables into the seating arrangements. Everyone has to eat and the table is less of a threat, it is a known, familiar and welcomed space. Jesus knew this and modeled the table as a great mission field. We are taught to follow Jesus, let’s follow him to the table and a meal where all are welcomed.
You can learn more about Dinner Church and a graduate level, accredited training cohort called the Dinner Church School of Leadership (DCSL) really a deep dive into all things Dinner Church; you can develop confidence in your own dinner church mission with the DCSL! You'll not only learn how to gather and feed your hungry neighbors, but you'll also develop a robust understanding of the history and theology, missiology and ecclesiology. Here is Dinner Church School of Leadership promo video: