What Is Dinner Church?
Jesus did a lot of ministry around the table, from sitting with the disciples for the Last Supper to sharing a meal with Zacchaeus. He knew that gathering in this way was an opportunity to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Following Jesus’ example, United Methodists are transforming mealtime into a sacred space, one where worship is the entrée.
Christy Wright, a seminary student at the time, remembers the phone call well. Stressed out and wanting to meet new people, she called the pastor of Simple Church, a United Methodist congregation that meets around various dinner tables and extends an online invitation that simply says, “reach out to the pastor to let him know you’ll be there.”
Wright called and asked, “Hey, can I come to dinner tonight?” The reply of, “Absolutely. I’ll set a place for you,” is the reason Wright fell in love with Simple Church and table ministry.
“That idea of having a place set for me, as a stranger, was very comforting,” says Wright, who is now coordinating pastor at Simple Church, an appointment she received when the Simple Church’s founding pastor, moved to another congregation.
Simple Church meets weekly (pre-Covid) and calls itself a dinner church. It invites those who have a “complicated relationship with the church” or “no relationship at all”. It touts no steeple or pews, but a table, where “we’ll set a place for you.”
The weekly dinner/worship service is designed around the meal, with the bread and the wine (which is typically juice or seltzer) as the bookends. A prayer is followed by passing a freshly baked loaf of bread so that all break off a piece. A short sermonette, as it’s called, sets the stage for group conversation, “the digestion of the teaching,” explains Wright. After the meal and discussion end, worship ends with sharing the cup.
“We use it almost as a toast,” Wright explains. “We say, ‘This is the cup of reconciliation and we are grateful.’”
The point is that God can make any ordinary meal extraordinary!