Our dinner+church begins this Sunday night at 5:30PM in the Parish Hall. This is a short reflection written by Fr. Rick on the experience of dinner+church in Brooklyn.
St. Lydia’s in Brooklyn – the “mother” of all dinner churches.
The concept of worshipping around a table with food and drink, prayers and song, and conversations informal and deep is nothing new. In fact, it’s exactly how the first generation of Christians worshipped: a sacred meal held usually in someone’s home. It was the confluence of hundreds and hundreds of years of seder worship in the Jewish tradition and the Last Supper of Jesus, which brought disciples, seekers, and pilgrims together.
Eating. Praying. Sharing. Certainly laughing and crying.
When the Romans sniggered at the Christians about how they “loved one another,” Christian table fellowship was probably their chief evidence.
As the years passed on the table got smashed up against a wall, and everyone ended up facing the same direction as holy stuff happened “up there.” This development, while probably pretty practical and perhaps even helpful in some instances, did one thing: it kept people from looking at each other, talking to each other.
Connection. We crave it. And yet, it can be so illusive.
One of the things we’re learning over and over again, by nothing more than experience, is that what we think connects us doesn’t always do so. In fact, sometimes we think we’re so hyperconnected with text messages, Facebook, tweets, Instragrammed filters, and chats that are snapped and snapped and snapped…and yet really we’re just drowing in lonliness.
What I found at St. Lydia’s, a dinner church in Brooklyn, is a community that connected across the table and over a meal that could only be described as sacred. I was a total outsider and newcomer, and yet from the moment I walked in the door I was invited to start chopping some onions. Over my tears (caused by the onions, of course) I was able to talk with the member of the community who was in charge of preparing the meal for the night. I got to hear a little bit of his story, and I got to share a bit of mine.
I was an outsider when I walked in the door, but from the moment I filled a bowl with my chopped onions I was all of a sudden a member of the community. I had played a part, albeit small, in the production of this dinner. I wasn’t just an outsider. I was instantly connected to the food that we would all share.
When the candles were lit and the chanted prayers began to ascend into the vesper light, I was blown away by how ancient it all felt. Sure we were in uber-trendy Brooklyn, but all of a sudden we were connecting not just with each other, but with The Other, using a language that I felt I hadn’t spoken for aeons.
It was beautiful. Achingly beautiful.
And when we began singing the oldest Christian Eucharistic Prayer, from the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (The Didache), I experienced Eucharist in a similar old-and-yet-new way. In the Body of Jesus we were being connected to the fullness of Christ, crucified and risen, but we were also being connected to each other, brothers and sisters who I had only just met.
Most churches I’ve ever been a part of do “fellowship” well. Potluck suppers. Talent Shows. Wine and cheese gatherings at people’s homes. Picnics and hikes. It’s all good.
But, the thing is, most churches gather on Sunday morning… and everyone faces forward to see what’s going on “up there.” And, THAT’S the very time that people usually visit us. THAT’S the time when we come with our hopes and dreams; those realized and those crushed. THAT’S the very time when we could could use some connection. Yes, of course, connection to God, but also connection to each other—and perhaps even connect to God IN each other.
I think going back to the church of the First Generation of Christians, gathering around a table, praying, singing, talking, laughing is exactly what the world needs right now. I think it’s exactly what we’re so craving for.