How dinner church changed my life

Next week, Emily M.D. Scott‘s book, For All Who Hunger will be out in the world, and I haven’t been more excited about a book birthday since my own. In it, Emily tells the story of founding and pastoring St. Lydia’s, a dinner church in Brooklyn. You need this book as much as you need fresh warm bread or a glass of wine or the company of a good friend right now.

The first time we went to St. Lydia’s, my son and I had already spent six hours in church–me, because I was the director of children, youth and family ministries, and my son Peter, almost 9, because he was a chorister, at a large and formal Episcopal church in midtown Manhattan.

By Sunday evening, I was tired, and so was my kid, but our friend Donald invited us, and so we went. From the moment we walked in the door, St. Lydia’s felt like home. The entire liturgy is set within the context of a meal, and those who gather for it make the dinner, set the tables, light the candles, sing the prayers. For the next five years, St. Lydia’s fed us when we were hungry, held us when we were sad, strengthened us when we faltered, emboldened us when we hesitated, brought us joy and laughter and so many good people. It was messy and beautiful and holy.

We didn’t need more church in our lives; we needed more people in our lives, people with whom we could sit and eat. You get to know people at a different level around the table, especially when they’re not people you yourself invited. This is how strangers become friends. I met my husband at dinner church.

Emily says that in the breaking of the bread something happens: we catch a glimpse of Jesus in the stranger next to us at the table. “In that moment, heaven and earth overlap and God builds a bridge between the world as it is and the world as it should be.” The meals we share, the conversations we have, give us what we need to strengthen that bridge, to confront our own prejudices, to fight injustice and inequality, to work for a greener, more peaceful neighborhood and planet.

I am so grateful to Emily, for the sacred stories she tells and the sacred spaces she creates, for helping me be a better bridge-builder, and for helping to build my family.

Emily Scott and I had a wonderful conversation about liturgy as formation at the Rooted in Jesus conference in January. You can watch it here.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

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