by Melissa Woeppel
A communal worship experience that has been important in my life of faith is the practice of dinner church. Dinner Church is a pattern of worship set around the place of eating, like a dinner table. Worship happens as those gather to eat, share, sing, pray and reflect on Scripture.
This Christian practice is rooted in the story of the early church. Many point to this vision of the gathered community in Acts 2:
All who believed were together and had all things in common they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. – Acts 2:44-47a (NRSVUE)
The primary gatherings of the early church happened in people’s homes around shared meals. Things weren’t always perfect. Resources were not always shared equitably, and the rich were known to start the meals before the poor and working class could join. Paul offers some correctives to the church in Corinth specifically, drawing them back to concern and consideration for the whole body. (1 Corinthians 11:17-34).
As the early church needed a reminder of their roots, the dinner church practice can help remind us of our roots, too. For this reason, communion centers and shapes the dinner church model.
Dinner church design
In my experience, after a brief gathering guided by song, the community breaks bread and remembers Jesus’ words as he gathers with his friends for a meal we call the Last Supper.
The breaking of the bread marks the beginning of the meal, where participants share in food and holy conversation, often discussing a passage of scripture. When eating has neared the end, the cup is passed and shared, again remembering Jesus’ invitation to his followers – do this for the remembrance of me. Prayer and additional music or song wrap up the experience and those gathered are sent out to be the body of Christ in the world.
One thing I find especially meaningful about this practice of Communion is how a variety of needs are met. We are filled and renewed physically, spiritually, and socially. The fullness of our humanity is embraced. Aligned with Jesus’ self-giving, there is enough for all because all is shared.
St. Lydia’s, a congregation in Brooklyn, NY, has been at the forefront of the dinner church movement in the United States. Their website has information and resources to help you craft a dinner church experience for your local context. I encourage you to give it a try!
- What stood out to you in the passage from Acts 2?
- What is meaningful to you about Communion?
- How does your communion practice connect you to a community of faith? To the world?
Prayer (for Communion or a meal):
Holy and generous God, you set a table where we feast as friends. Prepare us to witness your goodness with every gift you have given us to share. Be present with us as we are fed in body and Spirit, sharing this meal as a sign of your life, broken and shared with the world. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
For further consideration:
Want to know more about the changes from a church in home to church in a separate building? Check out “Did Auditoriums Ruin Church” by @_magnify for a quick video overview.
Melissa Woeppel is an ordained ELCA Pastor. She serves as Campus Pastor at Bethany College in Lindsborg, KS, where she lives with her spouse and pets. Her regular creative outlets include cooking, writing, and music-making.