I love to cook. For me, it’s an art form, a means of sharing my caring with others, and a meaningful spiritual discipline. My idea of a perfect vacation is traveling the BBQ competition circuit and my all-time favorite book is Supper of the Lamb by Episcopal priest and theological chef, Robert Farrar Capon. So when I read the story about Community Dinners in Seattle, my inner ‘Julia Child’ cheered.
Community Dinners is a church in five locations that has not only moved out of its four walls but completely reinvented what it means to do and be ‘church’.
Seven years ago, the Westminister Community Church, like other urban congregations, faced declining attendance and wasn’t sure about its continued survival. They reacted by digging back into their roots and asking themselves: “What would Jesus be doing with his time if he actually lived on the corner of 145th & Greenwood?” (the location of the old church.). They came to the conclusion that they, like Jesus, should be investing their time to help lift the lives of people in their surrounding community in a more meaningful way.
They wondered what might happen if they went back to a first century model and provided a welcoming, open, and free dinner table with warm food, friendship, laughter and inspiring conversation “to encourage the heart of our neighbors.”
What happened is that one dinner gathering each week in one location has now become 5 dinner gatherings each week in five different neighborhoods in the city. Attendance is growing from around 200 on a Sunday morning at the old church to nearly 1000 each week at the different dinner gatherings combined. Their goal is to host 27 different gatherings each week, one in each of Seattle’s 27 neighborhoods. The old church building is now rented to a school.
A typical dinner begins with a reading and a prayer followed by conversation during dinner and more conversation with those who stay afterwards. Local musicians often provide instrumental music during dinner and different visual artists provide color.
Continuing to ask “What would Jesus be doing with his time,” they have added a housing construction component to the food, music and art. They are now engaged in a project to build affordable housing units throughout Seattle.
Community Dinners’ website says: “We are on a mission to bring lift to Seattle neighborhoods by gathering around weekly dinner tables, talking about inspiring topics, building low-income housing, and helping people back to a meaningful and sustainable life.”
Their website also notes: “Community Dinners has changed us. We left our comfortable building and….as our neighbors have become our friends, we have found that many people in our community are struggling to find housing and employment. Our commitment is to transform the most broken pockets of our community through dinner gatherings, housing and job creation solutions.”
Community Dinners asked “What would Jesus be doing with his time” and found an answer. Is it too much for us to ask “What are we Unitarian Universalists doing with ours?” “What would Love do?”
You may also be interested in this May 2013 article about this special congregation.
Rev. Joan Van Becelaere faithfully serves our Association as the Central East Region Staff Lead
Wow, thank you for sharing this. What’s remarkable about this is the degree to which the members do not act as though they don’t have “church” together if they don’t have the traditional worship. Their bond as a spiritual community has taken a radically different form and I wish I could interview them and see how smoothly that did or did not evolve. Wish we could take a deeper look, because “food ministry” is my calling, too.