You might be thinking, ‘Michele, aren’t you missing a comma? Don’t you mean “Fun, Food, and Faith?” But no, I really mean “fun food” and faith. Perhaps the quotes will make it clearer. But first a little history.
You may not know this but, in the beginning of Christianity, worship gatherings included food, dinner to be precise. Have you heard the old joke about the teacher who invited students to bring symbols of their faith to school for “Show and Tell” and the Methodist child brought a casserole dish? There are probably many different versions of that joke, and in truth probably each denomination credits itself with single handedly bringing the “pot luck meal” to Christianity. Truth is, though, so called “pot luck dinners pre-date Christianity, but that is another story.
Jesus, it seems, often enjoyed a good meal and a dinner party. Scour the Gospels for stories of Jesus “at Table” with friends, Pharisees, and all sorts of sinners. You may be surprised at how many meal stories you find.
Through the centuries, Christian Worship became much more formal, so that it would be difficult for many of us who have grown up in mainline denominations to picture dinner as Worship. No room for tables and chairs in most sanctuaries, just pews in rows that do not lend themselves to mealtime conversation, or much conversation at all. So we end up with a view of Christian Worship that is very formal.
That is not all bad, it depends on what you are used to I suppose. I love liturgy, that blend of readings, responses, prayers, songs or hymns. As much as I appreciate liturgy, I have long considered myself “semi-liturgical”. For twenty four years, including retirement, I have served churches that were either in a rural setting or town and country. Small churches often wish they were bigger, but there is a richness and a flexibility in a small congregation that is not possible in a large church.
My personal adventure with food in worship began with the experience of a Love Feast. A Love Feast is a special service of worship that includes food; it is usually held in the sanctuary, but not always. One of the guidelines in the United Methodist Book of Worship is that whatever bread and drink is used for a Love Feast should not be the same as the bread and drink used for Communion. So, once I figured out the logistics of getting napkins, mini-muffins and drinks handed out in worship, I served mini-corn muffins and Kool Aid.
The refreshments sat on the Lord’s Table (Altar) until it was time to serve them. I remember the two rowdiest boys in the church were transfixed, starting at the bounty on the table and eager to partake. I was hooked.
Although I have been an instigator and sometimes the chief cook in those events and the ones following, let me be clear that I could not have made them happen without the approval and assistance of some wonderful church members. When I moved to the next church I figured out that I could get 100 mini-muffins out of my mother-in-law’s pumpkin bread recipe. We generally served water as the drink, because it was simpler.
When I got braver or bolder, I decided to use candy for a sermon. The sermon title was “m&m’s” and I got small packs of m&m’s to be handed out before the sermon, but asked that folks take them home and not open them in worship. My sermon was about the Mission and Ministry focus of the Church, and my hope was that the flock would consider the candy a “mental hitching post” to their mission.
I think that it did; but something struck another cord for me, as deep as the Mission of the Church when one of the parents said to me, “Pastor Michele, Thanks for breakfast!” I remember what it was like to try to get three little kids dressed, fed and out the door for church. Another thing that connected with the statement about breakfast was the young adults who brought travel mugs of coffee to worship. I didn’t mind, and no one complained to me, at least. It seemed to be an essential thing for them.
Fast forward a few years to a new church. I mentioned this story in a Bible Study and the class really took it to heart. It was not long before the Church ladies were organizing refreshments to be available in worship EVERY WEEK! They set a spread, including juice boxes for the kids, served in a bowl of ice, Goldfish crackers in small cups, and on the “Coffee Bar” in the back of the sanctuary, there was ice water, hot coffee, brewed tea (not hot water and tea bags) and a variety of breads, muffins, or cookies and brownies. Not healthy to be sure, but readily available carbs.
People were invited to take their refreshments to their seats and help themselves at anytime. I would joke that their moving around during the service would not distract me, but I also begged them not to make that a life goal.
I realize this seems unorthodox. I also know that many churches have a regular coffee hour at the end of the service. But our facilities were somewhat limited. There was a small entry way and it was an upstairs sanctuary. If we had said, please join us down stairs after worship for a time of fellowship, we knew most people would not stay and they would lose the opportunity to visit with each other. This unique gift of the church contributed to the spirit of Joy in worship and did much to form community. It was radical hospitality.
The Creation Cake Service
One thing that we have learned over the years, is the need to appeal to different learning styles. Not only in terms of verbal sermon illustrations, but also in the use of visuals. Some concepts need to be seen to be understood.
I remembered reading in a Bible Study manual, that the Early Hebrews’ idea of creation was that the earth rested on pillars that were embedded in “The Deep.” Taking some liberties with an illustration in the book, I thought, cake pedestals would be helpful. So working with a friend and parishioner who actually did cake decorating, we each made the needed cake layers. Then my sermon talking about the wonders of Creation was part preaching, part cake construction.
Boy, I wish we had taken pictures, but no, I ask you to settle for this description. The base of the cake, symbolizing “the deep” was an oblong layer covered in blue/green frosting. I set the cake pedestals into that layer, which supported a regular round 8″ single layer, covered in frosting. I think we might have put some plastic animals or other things on it to show that was the earth. There may have been a yellow frosting covered cupcake to symbolize the sun. One more set of pillars supported the dome (the sky) which was baked in an oven proof bowl.
There had to be 2 separate cakes, because it would have been rude to say, “Look at this, do you get it? Okay, taking this to the next church!” So, at the end of each service, folks were invited to the fellowship hall for coffee, tea and cake.
The Wedding Feast at Cana
By the time we got to the Wedding Feast at Cana (John 2) I was working with an amazing creative team. There is more here than I could have made happen. We had the idea to have a real wedding cake and reception following worship. The table had space underneath to set up a display, which you see below, with a real wedding veil, a silk bouquet, a ring bearer’s pillow and a bulletin from a wedding. The celebration was made that much richer because it was a Communion Sunday. I loved the picture showing the combination of Elements for Communion on top of the table, and the wedding decorations under the table.
This time, the cake was not in the sanctuary, but the main meal was on the Table. After the service, folks were invited downstairs for cake and coffee. See the picture(s) below.
One of the things that made this extra special was the use of memorabilia lent by parishioners from their weddings. Peeping out from behind the cake are some delicately crafted white wooden roses. People gave and celebrated from their hearts.
The Pie-Chart Sermon/Service
Pie charts are certainly visual and used to explain a variety of things, so why not use real pie for a teachable, taste-able moment? I could not find a “free to use” picture of a slice of lemon meringue pie, but the pie I saw in a local restaurant was the inspiration for this sermon and service.
Briefly, my premise was that all the stories in the Bible contain three important layers: what was happening at the time of the story, what was happening years later when the story was written down, and what it means to us when we read or hear the story.
Not to belabor the point, but the stories were traditioned to us years after the occurrences described. Just as artists who paint cannot help but put something of themselves in the paintings, so life at the time of the actual writing was going to be influenced by what was happening in the church when the writing took place.
My experience as a pastor/teacher is that most people want to know what the story has to do with them, “life application.” But there is more to the stories in the Bible than that. So, planning ahead, each parishioner was able to choose what they wanted for pie, lemon meringue, coconut cream pie or chocolate cream. This sermon had to be served up in the dining room. Napkins and forks were on the table.
I was a tyrant, they had to wade into the sermon, before they could wade into the pie. Few people, I reasoned, would order lemon meringue pie, and just eat the meringue. All three layers are meant to be tasted and savored.
In this instance, the crust was “What was happening at the time of the event.” The filling was “What was happening at the time the story was actually written down,.” and the Meringue or whipped topping was the “Life application layer.”
I remember a special education teacher many years ago who commented on the number of different ways he knew to teach a concept. I appreciate that. As a Pastor/Teacher, I want to use every tool in my belt to help people connect with God, even if they seem a bit unconventional. Taking the Psalmist’s words to heart, “Taste and See that the Lord is good. (Psalm 34:8 NRSV)
Not holding back the tide,
Copyright 2021 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com
Shared with Esme Senior Salon #151 and Natalie the Explorer’s Weekend Coffee Share