When I agreed to write for the Saturday Sermon column a few months ago, one of the parameters was that the message would be relevant to the wider community and not just Methodists. I knew right away that I didn’t want to use the column to “promote” First United Methodist Church or in any way use it as a marketing tool. We can address the differences between marketing and evangelism in a future column. But I’m writing this on the morning after the relaunch of our Dinner Church worship service, and I’m just a little bit in awe of what God is doing through this outreach and worship opportunity.
Let me explain what Dinner Church is: Actually, let me step back a moment and explain what Dinner Church is not. It is not a feeding ministry. It’s not dinner and then church, it is church while we have dinner. It is an opportunity for people to hear the word of God proclaimed, join together in prayer, celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion, study Scripture, and eat a meal together. James 2:15-17 says, “Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, ‘Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!’? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.”
When I was appointed by our bishop to be the senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Victoria about two years ago, I was determined to learn as much as I could about this community. One of the things that stood out was hunger, or to put it into more politically correct terms, food insecurity. Food insecurity is not just being hungry, but also worrying about when or how you might be able to eat again. I also found that within my own congregation there was a large number of friendly people who love meeting new friends. I thought, why not bring everyone together for a meal? Why not bring everyone together for church? It was kind of like the old Reese’s peanut butter cup commercials, “Hey, you got peanut butter in my chocolate! Hey, you got chocolate in my peanut butter!” Of course, Dinner Church is nothing new. The concept is only a couple thousand years old. We read throughout Scripture that the early Christians gathered in each other’s homes to share a meal and worship together. With Dinner Church, we are just drawing upon that ancient means of worship and inviting the Holy Spirit to dwell among us as we fellowship together while feasting on meals prepared by faithful church members. It really is a beautiful thing to witness.
So, what does it look like? Well, the technical aspects run something like this: We gather in our contemporary worship space around 5:30 p.m. where there are plenty of tables set up. One of our pastors welcomes everyone and invites them to have a seat before offering a blessing for the food. Once just about everyone has their plates, we allow for a few more minutes of fellowship before we launch into Scripture and a message, while people continue to eat.
We transition to Holy Communion, inviting everyone to the Lord’s table to receive the sacrament before entering into prayer for one another. We lift up joys and concerns together. During this time, I am usually in awe of the walls that have come down. People begin sharing some really deep personal prayer requests with total strangers to be lifted up together. I’ve heard prayers for comfort during times of death. Prayers to be released from the grip of addiction. Prayers for incarcerated family members. Prayers for healing from cancer and other illness. And, what’s important to note here is that these prayer requests are coming from everyone. They are coming from long-time church members as well as our newer Dinner Church attendees. True friendships have formed between people who might not have ever encountered one another outside of an opportunity like Dinner Church.
I want to re-state that this column wasn’t written to try to get more people to attend Dinner Church at First United Methodist Church; however, we would absolutely love for you to join us Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. The true purpose of today’s column is to encourage relationships.
It is to encourage relationships with others, and not just people who look, act and sound alike. There is treasure in getting to know people with different backgrounds and experiences, different struggles and victories. Learn to see God in the faces of everyone, and then celebrate that with developing relationships everywhere you go, and go new places.