When people ask what my plans are for my ministry, I tell them that my dream is to start a dinner church. There’s usually a short pause before they ask, “Dinner church? What’s that?” The answer is pretty straightforward: dinner church is when a community gathers in an intentional worship space that incorporates dinner. It’s dinner, and it’s church.
My first encounter with dinner church was St. Lydia’s, a Lutheran dinner church Brooklyn. I took a weekend trip to New York with a friend of mine to visit. We helped cook dinner, set up, and participated in a beautiful worship service—singing, prayer, food, reading, a sermon, all bookended by sharing the bread and grape juice of the communion ritual. It was the first time I had immediately felt like I belonged in a room full of strangers, and it filled my love of sacred space and my love of sharing food with others at the same time. I was hooked. A friend who had recently graduated from Harvard Divinity School moved to Grafton, MA to plant Simple Church, a Methodist dinner church, and invited me to be the ministerial intern. I’ve spent Thursdays this year baking bread to sell at the farmer’s market, cooking soup, and helping facilitate our weekly dinner church services.
All the dinner churches I’ve come across, whether standalone or part of a larger insitituion, have one thing in common: they are all Christian and incorporate the celebration of communion into the service. As I went to more and more dinner church services, as I continued to move forward in the UU ordination process, I started to wonder what a non-Christian dinner church would be like. Communion has been part of every dinner church service I’ve been to—but does it have to be? Is there a way to craft a dinner church service that is still sacred and full ofmeaning, but that doesn’t include communion?
Through my MDiv thesis, I’ve been able to explore these questions in depth. My thesis ends with a model for a dinner church that is not built around communion, but rather centered in other rituals of community building. I’ve drawn various aspects from dinner church services, UU worship, and other sacred spaces to create a dinner church that feels deeply spiritual and full of meaning. Everyone is invited to come early to help cook and set up, and we clean up together as part of the service. There is singing, sharing, readings, and discussion. I’ve been lucky enough to get to pilot my dinner church at First Parish UU in Arlington, where I am a member—we’re calling it “sacred supper.” I’ve gotten to take my thoughts about dinner church out of my head and off the page to facilitate it with and for others—and this has only made me more sure that facilitating dinner church will be part of my ministry career.
Dinner church is a deeply communal form of worship, one that allows people to interact with one another in a fairly casual and yet deeply sacred setting. Beyond starting my own dinner church, my dream is to see dinner churches spread far and wide, including within our movement. And maybe brunch church, too.
Aisha Ansano will graduate from Harvard Divinity School with her MDiv in May. She is a candidate for UU ministry and will serve next year as a ministerial intern at First Church in Boston. Aisha considers food to be her ministry, including but not limited to dinner church!