From the beginning, the tiny group of Christian believers in Jerusalem gathered together on a regular basis. Not long after the ascension of Christ, Acts 2:42 says that believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the “breaking of bread,” and to prayer. These are all communal activities, although prayer is also individual.
What this signifies, though, is that the original model of the church was people coming together and sharing among themselves. They might have shared teaching, meals, conversation prayer – but they shared it. Christianity was communal. Believers met in homes; they were not exactly welcome in synagogues or other places where Jews congregated in their religious life, although they did go to the temple for a time.
In Christian churches today, all of these activities are recognizable, including the “breaking of bread.” The food may be more plentiful and elaborate than what the early church experienced, but the idea is the same.
The difference is that we live in a (Western) culture today where food has become something of a social and political act, much like the environment was for an earlier generation (mine). There is a desire for simpler, more natural and slower (rather than fast) food. Processed and imported food is suspect; we want natural and local. Many of us also want people to know what we doing in our desire for simpler and more natural food, part of the conspicuous virtue that has replaced the conspicuous consumption of the 1950s and 1960s.
This wasn’t the point when the early church met and broke bread. Food was not an end in itself but a means to an end – the being together, even with your children running about. Christopher Smith, John Pattison and Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove, in Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, ask us to imagine a common life “centered around (a) eating together at the table and (b) the slow, Eucharistic conversation that convivial feasting encourages.”
My own experience with churches eating together is something different. They have more been times associated with an event or purpose – a missions meeting, a congregational meeting, a newcomers luncheon. There is food and conversation, to be sure, but it’s often hurried and surface so we can get to the point of the group meeting. Off-building meals with Sunday School classes has been different, approaching something like what the Slow Church authors suggest.
What if the being together – the sitting, the eating and the talking – was the point? What might happen as a result?
I don’t know, but I’m willing to find out.
For the past several Mondays, I’ve been discussing Slow Church. This chapter, “Dinner Table Conversation as a Way of Being Church,” is the last chapter in the book. A short conclusion remains, and next Monday I’ll finish my own discussion with some overall thoughts about the book.
Illustration by Piotr Seidlecki via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.