Gathering around a table for a shared meal is at the heart of what it means to be a faithful person in community. There is a bright line that moves from the communal meal to the sharing of food with the sojourner to the seder to the eucharist. Sometimes the highly stylized and symbolic meal in a gothic church can obscure the fact that at the heart of the action is a meal.
St. Lydia's church in Manhattan is a gathering that grows out of the Episcopal and Lutheran traditions that meets around dinner.
The Emergent Church weblog describes what is going on:
Times of departure from tradition are often marked by a return to tradition; this has been the case for what some have termed “The Emergent Church,” a movement pointing the way forward for the Church. St. Lydia’s, a new church that meets on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, is following this pattern. Our worship is modeled after the Eucharist of the Early Church when Christians would gather for worship that took place around a full meal, with its liturgical roots in the Sabbath Super and Seder Meal.
Every Sunday night, Lydians (as we have come to refer to ourselves) gather at Trinity Lower East Side Lutheran parish near Tompkins Square Park. Each week a different congregant acts as the “lead cook.” As congregants arrive, they are put to work in the kitchen cutting vegetables, or in the sanctuary setting the tables or arranging flowers and putting out candles. We’ve found that welcoming regulars and newcomers alike by asking them to pitch in helps them own the worship experience, and draws us together as a community. When all is ready, we gather in the entryway, sing a lamp lighting hymn and process into the sanctuary, light the candles, and sit down to bless our meal. A celebrant leads us in the chanting of the Didache Prayer: the earliest known Eucharistic Prayer, dating to the second or third century. After sharing the loaf of bread, we dig into our sacred meal, catching up with one another over nourishing food.
As the meal winds down the bibles come out and we read and interpret scripture together. Last Easter I told our congregants that we gather each week to hear a story: a story about how Love is stronger than death. Each week we rehearse this story, hear fragments of the story and tell our own stories, tuning our hearts to pick up on God’s movement in our lives. Then we join hands to pray. Worship closes with the blessing of the cup (just as Jesus blessed the cup after dinner, so do we) and clean up, followed by announcements, an offering, and a final hymn in the entryway.
Why make church this way? Why gather around the table to sing and pray?
Because when we invite people to the table to share in the meal, we want that invitation to ring true in the most immediate way possible. We want the distance between our symbols and their meaning to be as small as possible. We want the connections between our table and all tables to be palpable. We want the foretaste of the feast to come to be felt with all the senses.
Because we want our worship to be inculturated. New York is a city filled with young, ambitious people who often feel isolated from one another. They live long subway rides from their friends and sometimes have trouble meeting folks outside of the workplace. It’s difficult to host in their small apartments, difficult to make home cooked-food in their kitchens. St. Lydia’s seeks to feed the hunger that exists in this city: a hunger for connection that goes deeper than the surface level, for exploration of scripture that is complex and nuanced, for food that is cooked with love and care and a table that is large enough to seat us all.
Here is St. Lydia's web site.