USA: Dinner churches spring up nationwide
In 2009, Saint Lydia’s, a Lutheran church in Brooklyn, New York garnered national attention when it began holding a weekly service over dinner. Longing to dispel feelings of isolation often reported among young New Yorkers, founder Emily Scott decided to model her service around the early church practice of having a meal together as Eucharist.
Meanwhile, the Assemblies of God Community Dinners in Seattle, Washington, the Disciples of Christ Potluck Church in Madisonville, Kentucky, and the Episcopal Southside Abbey in Chattanooga, Tennessee, began experimenting with their own ideas of meal-centered worship. One by one, communities began to emerge, though many remained unaware of others participating in the movement.
In the years since, the model has grown from four to over forty congregations across North America and Europe, with new communities emerging on a weekly basis.
While every church has its own feel, the concept is the same: connect with others in a language spoken by all – food. Serving a hearty meal at a table with real napkins, dishes, and silverware, the services aim to feel like a dinner party, fostering conversation among men, women, and children who might otherwise never meet.
‘For the first 300 years, Christianity was done around dinner tables.’
These churches encompass a range of denominations, both conservative and progressive, and they meet in a variety of settings: in church basements, restaurants, gardens, and art galleries. Found in urban, suburban, and rural areas, they attract wealthy, middle class, and unhoused neighbors. The intergenerational and multi-ethnic congregations create engaging dialogue; and the meals become a space where diners can disagree and still maintain close relationship. Throughout the evening, they read Scripture, sing, and pray, but most importantly, they eat. Central to the process of eating is engaging in dialogue, providing space to respond to the Scripture or sermon.
This new way of doing church, which Saint Lydia’s fondly coined a ‘dinner church’, is modeled after the earliest gatherings of Christians as described in Acts 2: “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,” (Acts 2:46). Early church father Tertullian further describes these early church meetings, called Agape feasts, all based on the idea that Jesus’ Last Supper was intended to be a model for how Christians worship together. “For the first 300 years, Christianity was done around dinner tables more than any other way,” says Verlon Fosner of Seattle’s Community Dinners, who uses the writings of Tertullian as a model for his services.