At the end of June, one of my earliest pastors of my formative teenage years, passed away. After 20 years of active ministry, he found out on a much delayed (and needed) vacation that what he thought was extreme food poisoning, was actually cancer. He was diagnosed with only a month to live…he died eight years later. This past weekend I got to be virtually present at his beautiful memorial. What I remember the most about Pastor Marty was that he was a larger than life man with a boisterous and jolly laugh that brought people together. Our church was centered around building community and community food events (we were Methodist after all). Looking back, he centered his entire pastoral ministry on starting new faith communities for 27 years. His focus was building the kingdom of God around the table; just like Jesus.
Scholars have suggested that the earliest teachings and sermons of Jesus probably happened in people’s homes and around dinner tables. There was laughter, wine, bread, and an opportunity to share life stories and ask critical questions about the intersections of faith and the world around us.
For the last couple of months, our Micah Street Church community has been expressing a desire to find another gathering time between Sundays. They expressed that they wanted to give back to the community that they loved so much—both to their neighbors and those who have served them in the past. It was a brainstorming opportunity to consider what it means to serve those who are normally serving us. What does it look like to offer hospitality in borrowed space and give back some of the grace that has overflowed from our own cup to those who have helped us in the past and those who are still struggling or lonely and needing community? How can we serve together as One body of Christ and have an opportunity to really build our community relationships on equal footing around One table?
We dreamed of creating a space where we could have a big dinner “tent” for all the Micah churches to join us. A place where we could serve one another with our presence and conversation, embracing our diverse perspective and experiences with scripture.
This past week, that dreaming became a reality as Micah Street Church had the opportunity to launch and introduce a new Thursday night worship service format that we are calling “Dinner Church.” We teamed up with the Fredericksburg Baptist Church meals team to reopen the beloved baked potato bar and their fellowship hall for the 2nd and 4th Thursdays in July and August (our hope is to go weekly in September after Labor Day). While it was a shift from how we remember the Thursday dinner pre-pandemic, everyone adapted and it was like remembering how to ride a bike; everyone started to pedal and we got going (even if it was a bit wobbly at first)!
We had about 35 people show up for our first dinner. People who were sitting and waiting for the dinner under the awning of the church on Princess Anne St. came inside and started to help prepare the tables. We had a group of our leadership team show up at 3:30 to get the potatoes and sides in the ovens.
We were grateful for our volunteer, Susan, who guided us in the kitchen to help our very capable leadership team familiarize themselves in a new kitchen. They are looking forward to hosting and leading this event in the future and it is wonderful to build a new team together.
While we recognize that there is always an adjustment when we are shifting team dynamics and relearning how we do this together, we were grateful for the ways the Spirit showed up in every person that came to the table to help set up, serve, and worship together.
Dinner Church intentionally has a different flow than our Sunday morning gathering. We want people to feel like they are at a fun dinner party with friends. We strived to create a lively and hospitable worship space where there is more room for fellowship, conversations about the scripture in small tables, music and laughter. We also came to the Table for an ecumenical “love feast” where we remembered Jesus at the table with his disciples and broke bread for one another offering the grace of bread and cup to one another.
Our text this week was the story in 2 Samuel of King David dancing in a processional with the Ark of the Covenant being returned to Israel. It gave us the opportunity to discuss what it means to come into the true presence of God in our worship.
At this time, the Hebrew people believed that the presence of God was in the temple, behind the curtain where only high priests could go. It was a “thin space” where God’s presence was palpable.
As modern Christians, we understand the presence of God to transcend our individual tents and temples. God sent us the son, Jesus, so that we could receive God’s divine presence here on Earth. Through the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, we recognize that God’s presence is with us through the power of the Holy Spirit that gathers with us every time we come to the Table. When we gather as the body of Christ, we are called to remember the One who died for us while we were yet sinners. The One who offered His grace on the cross so that we may know God in a deep and personal way, even when we don’t have it all figured out.
On Sunday, we continued this conversation of being in the presence of God. We recognized that one of the ways we can experience God’s presence is through community and at the Table. We celebrate that we were able to come to the Table for Holy Communion for the first time at Micah Street Church. As the Spiritual leader appointed, called and installed to serve this congregation, I have been asking the question of when will it be time to gather at the Table once again. This Sunday, as I was preparing some final notes for our time together and praying, I felt the Holy Spirit very clearly tell me, “Today is the day. Bring my people to the Table.” So we did.
We took time to talk about communion, to understand the spiritual nourishment of grace and the remembrance of Jesus at table. We asked questions and discussed that there were different perspectives on the ritual and that we honor them all as the body of Christ. My hope is that as an Ecumenical body we can continue the conversation of what it means to come to Table together.
For us, our Table is open for all to receive. For some, it may mean offering additional options for our brothers and sisters from different faith traditions that require a Priest to administer the Sacraments. We simply want to come to the Table as One Body of Christ, to be fed and to offer the same to others in need of God’s grace.
Through this encounter with the Divine, we had another member of our congregation profess to the Body that he wanted to be baptized. Hallelujah! Thanks be to God!
May the Spirit continue to meet us where we are, as we are, and join us in this eternal feast as we seek to build the kingdom of God here on Earth, as it is in heaven.