In churches we notice how people’s worship habits are changing. But have you noticed how other habits are changing as well? The week after Portland, Maine was named Bon Appetit magazine’s top restaurant city of 2018 I caught the end of a radio call in show talk with Maine food writers, producers, and chefs. The places they were all planning to eat out that week were in Brunswick, where the northern edge of Portland influenced Southern Maine overlaps the Midcoast’s fishing and farmland.
Jeff and I live right across the river from Brunswick and are well acquainted with the eating options. We eat out A LOT more than I did as a kid and there are many more options. Back then, a monthly pizza was a huge treat as was an annual trip to Tony’s Clam Shack on Wollaston Beach when we vacationed at Grandma’s. But now eating out fits our full work schedules and interest in new experiences of others’ expertise and creativity. Choosing where we eat is often governed by convenience or curiosity, unlike the homecooked meals we shared when raising our children. At the same time, we are having to pay new attention to nutritional needs at this stage of life.
It’s interesting to me that CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) are growing at the same time restaurants are, handing us bags of locally grown veggies, fruit, meat, flowers, or even seafood. High end and low end are both lining up beside the old -fashioned weekly trip to the grocery store. Consumers want convenient, fresh, sustainable, delicious. What might that tell us about worship that would touch the hearts of our neighbors?
Similarly, work patterns have changed. Once most people had something like a 9-5, Monday-Friday schedule. Occasionally emergencies or special occasions might have cropped up, but unless you were in the military, the ministry, or some medical fields, you could predict what your weekend would look like. Now, the whole notion of a “weekend” seems to be growing nebulous. Does the workweek ever end when we are working across multiple time zones and communication devices? Flex scheduling in workplaces means people’s work schedules may be up in the air until just before they’re expected to show up.
Most families are spread out now. Jeff and I have reached the point where we need to carefully plan and balance holiday trips to children and grandchildren in three far flung locations. Instead of Christmas worship at our home church, we seek it out where we find ourselves. Hmm, a little like searching out a new restaurant.
Even our recreational lives often demand higher commitments now. Travel leagues, expectations of excellence, and training schedules block off some of our more predictable time commitments. With crazy schedules meals get squeezed in, grabbed on the go, or pulled from a freezer.
No wonder people are increasingly hungry for soul food and for community connections.
There’s no magic formula for how these changes in our lives may reshape the ways we worship and grow as Jesus followers, except to say that following Jesus requires a new level of intention and commitment. And maybe of curiosity as well. Ask someone what they’re hungry for this week. And share whatever is on your menu. Meanwhile, look what God dropped into our flower bed! Surprise seeds produced these almost ready to pick nutritious treats where we least expected them. Keep your eyes open for manna from heaven!
In God’s Grace, Karen
My mother-in-law, Peggy, was a truly remarkable cook. After learning a Midwestern style meant to satisfy active farmers and factory workers (meat, potatoes, canned vegetables, lots of pie), she became an itinerant Navy wife with entertaining responsibilities in the white glove era. Taking hostessing as an art form seriously, she searched cooking magazines and exchanged ideas with others. Menus at the Munson house went from Jell-O salad (with grated carrots) to tomato aspic (with baby greens).
What’s on the “menu” your church offers? Meals you offer the community probably reflect area tastes and church members’ talents. What about your church’s weekly worship feast? Most of us continue to serve our grandparents’ soul-satisfying, “traditional,” menus. Some have moved to offering “contemporary” (baby boomer tradition) or experimental worship feasts. All of these can be yummy and filling.
But I had a problem at Peggy’s table. It was my problem, not hers. When proudly offered tomato aspic at family feasts, it triggered my gag reflex. Every time. No matter how hard I tried to overcome the urge, it just would not go down. This is no judgement on tomato aspic. It just didn't “work” for me. My family ties kept me trying tomato aspic at Peggy’s table until she took pity on me and offered alternatives.
Most of our neighbors today lack family ties to keep them at a worship table whose menu, or scheduling, doesn’t consider their genuine needs. We wish they did. But they don’t. The Portland to Auburn, Maine corridor is currently the most unchurched regionof the United States of America, according to the Barna Group. And it doesn’t seem like telling people they ought to eat their carrots (because they’re good for them, or because mom says they must) will bring them to the table we set with Christ unless we do some careful hospitality planning.
Scripture speaks often of hunger. These three verses could form a scripture “sandwich” of God’s promises to hungry people before, during, and after Jesus’ ministry on earth. They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them. [God] who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water.-Isaiah 49:10 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Matthew 5:6 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat.-Revelation 7:16
This is not an easy time for designing hospitality. Even hosts of church suppers, fellowship times, and communion tables are now challenged by food allergies and other dietary needs.
But as part of God’s movement of grace, bringing the world into God’s grace and God’s grace in to the world, we are part of God’s hunger management team. If we are genuinely willing to offer soul food to the hungry around us, or to help them learn to cook according to their own needs, the place to start is getting to know what will feed our neighbor’s souls.
I invite you to ask one person outside church this week what their soul hunger feels like. And before you offer them what’s on the current menu at your church, be sure you’re really listening with open ears, mind, and heart. Maybe you don’t have the right menu option for them right now, and that might be hard to acknowledge. But we can thank our conversation partners for trusting us with their stories and informing us about the hunger outside our doors. It turns out there’s more than one way to eat your vegetables. (I like stir fry! Post your favorite in the comments).
Karen L Munson
A pastor and artist, I'm wondering while I'm wandering through God's marvelous creation.