A new church start in New England gathers around a dinner table instead of rows of pews. And I wonder if this is a portent of the future of church.
A Simple Church outside of Boston
Zach Kerzee is the pastor of a new church start without a steeple or a worship space: Simple Church (FB) which sees church as a big family dinner. Zach is a United Methodist and a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, which is a distant second to my alma mater of Boston University School of Theology across the river, but let’s not hold that against him.
After Zach had this idea for a novel use of a neglected church parsonage, he heard about St. Lydia’s dinner church in New York City and studied their process to inform his model of church: a simple church that meets for dinner.
After reading more about Zach’s work, I’m really entranced by two aspects of Simple Church.
First, I’m inspired by Zach’s living out of his convictions by making his own life simple. In a profile in the local paper, he really walks the walk: he has sold most of his possessions and lives simply (almost a new monastic, perhaps). Can this church bring an aspect of monasticism to the masses? I don’t know, but a dinner table is a good place to start.
Second, I’m stoked about the participatory aspects of the worship service:
Worship [entails] preparing the food together within a liturgical context full of prayers, a candle-lighting ceremony, and a blessing of the food, followed by the meal and a short sermon meant to start discussion. There will of course be music, but not traditional hymns…[afterward] there will be time for the kids to come and play while the grownups gather for coffee.
I think so often we expect church to be a product that we consume and enjoy the fruits of other people’s labors (writing liturgy, practicing the choral anthem, etc). Instead, worship that involves everyone pitching in–be it cooking, prepping, cleaning, setting the table, or just watching the kids–brings a deeper co-creative aspect to worship. Wow.
Simple Church has an official launch on September 18th. If you are in the Grafton, Massachusetts area, stop on by and let us know how it went.
Why Dinner Matters
Dinner matters because food may be one of the holy moments that reaches across all the lines that usually divide us.
I recently went to a conference and sat next to Sarah Harmeyer who runs My Neighbor’s Table in Dallas, Texas. Sarah has a 20-seat dinner table in her backyard (literally, of her house) where she regularly hosts people to eat–at last count, I think she has had over 1,000 guests. That’s at a dinner table in a backyard, not a restaurant!
Two things jumped out at me from Sarah’s secular project (or at least it’s not overtly faith-oriented). First was the reaction from some guests at one dinner:
Sarah, who is the founder of Neighbor’s Table, went around the room and introduced everyone. I was so impressed! She remembered pretty much everyone’s name and was able to tell a brief story about each of us. She said a blessing over the food and we all got to dig in and eat.
Second is from when she hosted a dinner party for a cookbook kickstarter and here’s what the author said about the experience:
The love I received that night is not something that can be easily forgotten. It not only confirmed my belief that gathering people to connect around the table is vitally important, but it has challenged me to love extraordinarily. To not worry so much about what I say or what I accomplish, but how I make others feel. That’s what matters.
Identity, belonging, and transformation–these people received from a dinner table what I hope they receive at a worship service in a church with pews.
Taking on Post-Christendom
Last in our brief survey is Rev. Tom Arthur, pastor of Sycamore Creek Church just outside of Lansing, Michigan. Since October 2012, SCC added a second site to his appointment called “Church in a Diner” where they…have church in a diner. Check out this video:
It looks just like a typical weeknight at a diner, though with a walking sermon, music, and people packing out a place for something other than dollar tacos. And even better is how the pastor frames this taking of church out of the designated building and into the community:
“We live in a post-Christian culture where Sunday morning is not reserved for church. The question is: are we going to adapt to it, or are we going to stay stuck complaining about football and soccer games, dance rehearsals being scheduled on Sunday mornings? Are we going to go to those places where people are already gathering?”
SCC is a very different model than Simple Church because it transplants the traditional church experience into a new wineskin, rather than distilling the worship experience down to its bare essentials.
However, I admire that instead of whining over the loss of Sunday morning sacrosanctness, the church chose to change along with culture and go where the people are. When you are wandering in the wilderness, it’s best to follow the pillar of God’s fire, rather than watch it grow dim as it moves away from you.
The Future is Big…or Small.
I believe the future of church will leave the middle and creep towards the extremes: the megachurches that offer everything to everyone, and the microchurches that offer deeper community and personal relationships (which will compete with megachurches that are multisite…that’s interesting). Our clergy will feel a pull towards one of those extremes.
As we learn the best practices from the megachurches, we would do well to also support and study these smaller communities who are refining the basics of community and conversation that leads to transformation. The Church had its start in an upper room where Jesus shared bread and cup with his friends who he knew by name: maybe there’s something there for us to remember and bring back to our consumeristic world.
- What are your thoughts on dinner churches or faith expressions that are primarily found in the sharing of a meal?
- What other dinner churches are in your area that you want to make note of? Have you attended and what was your experience?
Thanks for your comments!