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Dinner Church

Dinner Church

Dinner Church

In a recent post, where I argued against Christians organising their own Passover Seder, I also promised that I would blog about combining the Eucharist with a meal. This is that blog.

I am indebted to the Rev’d Clare Barrie, vicar of the Anglican Parish of Saint Luke, Mount Albert (Auckland NZ). This information is drawn from that parish’s doing a dinner series for Lent. Thanks also, obviously, to that community – particularly those who participated. The photo above is from that experience, and the notes that follow are edited slightly from Clare’s discussions with me (all used with permission).

This a version of what’s being called ‘dinner church’ in other parts of the world (particularly TEC).

We moved our church furniture around just before Lent so that there’s an open space down the centre of the church (on the axis of the altar, lectern and font). This space fits a couple of trestle tables set lengthwise.

We put together a very, very simple liturgy of the eucharist according to the prayerbook template [A Form For Ordering The Eucharist pp 511ff]. We set the table for dinner, with food all ready to serve, and everyone took their seats. Then to begin the evening, at the ‘head’ of the table I had a chalice and paten ready with two candles lit. I put on a stole and after welcoming everyone, we moved into the liturgy (I had placed liturgy booklets on each place setting). When it came time for administration, the bread then wine were passed down around the table, each person receiving then offering to their neighbour.

Once all had received we then ‘suspended’ the liturgy, served dinner around the table and opened some wine bottles and moved into enjoying time together. To mark the transition I had tapers ready and lit them from the two candles and passed them down the table so all the other candles set down the table could be lit. Once most people had finished most of their dinner, we moved into some guided conversation on a pre-selected theme (a different topic each week, eg. ‘hospitality’).

When we drew that to a close, we returned to our liturgy for ‘prayer after communion’ and the blessing and dismissal.

It was a great experience and those who attended found it moving, surprising, and powerful to be sharing a meal in a space which is so sacred and liminal to them. We have done any number of church dinners and lunches as a church community of course, but as one person commented, it felt profoundly different to be doing that in the church (rather than our parish hall).

Part of the goal is to shine a light on the Sunday experience of eucharist, so that that becomes transformed by the experience of these evening dinner eucharists. It is SO HARD (I’ve found!) to wake people up to what happens in the liturgy on Sunday, why we do what we do etc. We can talk about its significance until we’re blue in the face – but then people just put their noses back in their books and put one foot in front of the other. The liturgical auto-pilot is so, so strong.

This, to me, isn’t trying to replicate an imagined service a-la 1 Corinthians or any other archaeological fantasy. It isn’t trying to do a mock-Passover-Seder/Eucharist. This, to me, is one way of celebrating Eucharist so that that has its own integrity, whilst putting it into the context of a meal – one of the most important dimensions of the Eucharist.

What do you think?

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16 thoughts on “Dinner Church”

  1. Hi thanks for sharing this as I will store it away for next year,if not sooner. Our synod Eucharist last year was similar although the numbers meant we weren’t sitting at table together but mingled with food and drink before coming back together as described.

  2. Clint Bordelon

    In the broad Methodist tradition, borrowing from the Moravians, there is the “Love Feast”, for those interested, one pattern is here (notice not using fruit of the vine or a single loaf– sacramental, but not a sacrament)…
    http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/the-love-feast
    Some churches who do not observe Communion, at least as we would observe it, claim they commune every time they sit down at the table together.
    For me, the question is this: What is necessary for Communion to be Communion? Bread and wine? What about rice wine in areas where grapes are rare, is grape juice acceptable? Is the Epiclesis required? What about hundreds of years in CoE and other traditions when there was no Epiclesis? What about ocular communion during the time of plagues? Is it just intent with an authorized presider? (which varies depending on theology and polity) maybe the World Council of Churches/Lima document can help here.

    1. Thanks, Clint. You say “the question” and then outline a degree course! 🙂 Let’s start with your epiclesis question – the answer is “no, it is not necessary.” Is that a start? I am sure that all your points are discussed somewhere on this site – you could try the search box (top right), my thesis, or (the online book) Celebrating Eucharist. Easter Season Blessings.

      1. Bosco, are you able to expand on your comment that the epiclesis is not necessary or direct me to a link that would explain why you are of that view? It has always been my understanding (belief?) that an epiclesis, either explicit or implied, was necessary.

        1. Thanks, Kevin. I’m not sure of your context or background or how much you’ve researched this. Clint already set the scene – the Western tradition has, for centuries, had no epiclesis. I don’t know what your “implied” epiclesis would be? What leads to your understanding/belief? Then there’s the whole discussion of before or after the Last Supper story? [Strong or weak – on the bread & wine or just on the people?] Next you’ll be horrified that the Last Supper story is not universal! Ps – if I was writing a Eucharistic Prayer de novo – yes, it would have an epiclesis. Easter Season Blessings.

          1. Thank you Bosco, I am pleased to read you would include an epiclesis in any Eucharistic Prayer you would write. My background is as a Lay Eucharistic Minister, initially in the Roman Catholic Church and now as a Liturgical Assistant in the Anglican Church of Australia (Brisbane). I should have used the word ‘implicit’ to refer to an invocation to God but not specifically the Holy Spirit. The Roman prayer Quam Oblationem immediately before the words of consecration call upon God to bless acknowledge and approve the offering, to make it a spiritual and acceptable so that it may become for us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. It could be said that this prayer is implicitly calling on God the Holy Spirit. Other prayers in the Roman liturgy are more explicit in petitioning the Holy Spirit. I take your point on the before or after (not to mention the before and after). Many thanks for your wonderful website that provides much food for thought. May God continue to Bless your ministry.

          2. Thanks, Kevin. The traditional shape of a Eucharistic Prayer, going back into our Jewish roots is praise-proclaim-petition-praise (Bosco Peters copyright mnemonic 🙂 ). The Epiclesis, then, is one form, a dominant form certainly, within the petition section, and you have seen that in the Roman prayer. The Last Supper story can be part of the proclaim (making it come before the Epiclesis), or it can be part of the petition. I produced a research paper on all this, and this conversation encourages me to get that as a resource onto this site. The 1662 reformers didn’t understand the dynamic. It appears that Cranmer had placed receiving communion within the Eucharistic Prayer (an odd thing to do, I acknowledge). In 1662, they misunderstood this and just concluded the truncated prayer with an “Amen” at the end of the Last Supper story. Liturgical renewal has restored the heritage. Thanks for your encouragement. Easter Season Blessings.

    2. Thank you Clint – very interesting to read about the Methodist ‘Love Feast’ tradition.
      With our dinner eucharists, I was very keen to ensure that they were actually sacraments, not simply sacramental. So for Communion to be Communion (as you put it) in our Province, we have various elements that must be included, according to our authorised liturgies. E.g., there must be a reading of the Gospel, and the wording of the Great Thanksgiving prayer must at least follow our prayerbook template.

  3. “….the context of a meal – one of the most important dimensions of the Eucharist.” This is entirely a matter of opinion (and almost an entirely protestant one) as there are numerous ‘dimensions’ to the Eucharist. Unfortunately the concept of meal seems to have eclipsed many other layers, not least that of anamnesis. I’m not blaming the writer of this particular sentence but symptomatic of this notion and lacking any richer theological understanding is something I once heard a certain cathedral dean of this church explain: that the consecrated bread was called a host because the Eucharist is one big family meal of which Jesus is the host! And the people respond: Good grief!

    1. I’m struggling to get your point, Richard. Are you saying that, beyond protestantism, meal is not understood as an important dimension of Eucharist? Are you saying, as Jews begin celebrating Passover/Pesach, that meal is antithetic to anamnesis? I would posit the opposite: that in most people’s experience meal and anamnesis are intimately entwined. I’m also struggling to understand what your problem is with the Eucharist being the whanau meal of the Church? Meals typify Jesus: Jesus was at meals, told stories about meals, and is remembered (anamnesis) in a meal. Easter Season Blessing.

  4. No No, I’m not disagreeing with you at all Bosco. Context is everything. Of course the Eucharist is a meal and of course a Jewish understanding of such would allow for an anemnetical understanding of the last supper relating to Passover. My point is that the use of the word ‘meal’ without qualification or elaboration in a 21st century Kiwi context is to suggest that it’s about’ little more than what might be described as ‘warm fuzzies’ – the family gathered around the BBQ, rather than issues of life and death. Mk 10:38 ‘Can you drink the cup that I drink?’

  5. Timothy Phillips

    What is described here is consistent with the Episcopal Church’s rubrics on pp. 400-405 of the 1979 BCP.

    You sneer at “archaeological fantasies,” but I see nothing inherently evil in designing a table-rite outside the pattern of the example above, whether on the basis of ancient examples or otherwise. It would be the meal with the “guided discussion” as in the example above, together with some song and prayer. There is nothing wrong with any of the four elements of eating, talking, singing, and praying.

    1. Thanks, Timothy. Yes the NZ Prayer Book has similar rubrics to those you refer to – ours are (surprise!) more permissive.

      I’m not sure how you got to my sneering at “archaeological fantasies” such as you briefly outline, or implying that what you describe I would see as “inherently evil.”

      My mention of “imagined services a-la 1 Corinthians” includes reinserting a meal between consecrating the bread and consecrating the wine. Then I have been present at innumerable Eucharists with solely the recitation of the Last Supper story as the consecration. There are also agape meals led by a priest, where, at the end, they could not decide whether they celebrated the Eucharist or not.

      I hope that clarifies somewhat.

      Easter Season Blessings.

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