St. Lydia’s is a Dinner Church on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. “What’s a Dinner Church?” people often ask as they walk by or pick up a postcard. We’re figuring that out, I often think to myself. But usually I say, “It’s a church where everything’s centered around a sacred meal that we cook together,” or, “It’s the Eucharist, but with a full meal instead of only bread and wine,” or sometimes, “It’s like the best part of Thanksgiving, when everyone hangs out in the kitchen.” Like many churches that seem to be part of the movements afoot in the church right now, St. Lydia’s is returning to early Church traditions as we work out how to practice Christianity in our current context.
I knew when St. Lydia’s was still a sketch on a napkin that we would not use the lectionary, and I want to tell you why. I’m not making an argument for or against the lectionary. I’m telling the story of a decision making process in a particular cultural context, in the hope that it might help you reflect on liturgical decisions you are making in your own cultural context.
In addition to the table, a second strand at St. Lydia’s is the story. Last Easter I told our congregants that we gather each week to hear a story: a story about how Love is stronger than death. Each week we rehearse the story, hear fragments of the story and tell our own stories, tuning our hearts to pick up on God’s movement in our lives. This is one reason we don’t use the lectionary. We’re interested in telling our story in a way that is as whole and dramatic as possible. We’re interested in exploring the gospels as narratives that take us from one place to another. We’re interested in following that narrative arc as we move from cradle to grave.
So we tend to find a strand of the story, pick it up, and stay with it. Last Spring we took all of Lent and part of Easter to look at story of Christ’s death and resurrection as told in the Gospel of Luke. We were able to really dig into Luke’s voice as a writer, the particular way in which he approaches this narrative, and hear and reflect on the story from beginning to end. This Fall we risked our sanity as we spent two and a half months wading through 2 Corinthians. Paul nearly drove a few of us mad, but we kept with it, and emerged with a rich sense of the community Paul was writing to, and the letter as just that: a piece of mail we happened to intercept, capturing a particular moment in a particular church. Currently, we’re launching into Matthew, getting ready to dig into the Sermon on the Mount, preparing to follow Jesus and his disciples all the way to Jerusalem.
Taking the texts in large chunks like this also achieves something else: it’s a crash course in how to read the bible for a community that didn’t necessarily grow up doing so. In the course of an evening, we get a good historical background on the text we’re approaching, read it two or three times a la lectio divina, and connect that text powerfully to our own lives. These are practices that will inform the way congregants at St. Lydia’s approach the bible as they wade out a ways into the waters of faith.
We’ve found a way to read the bible together that helps us tell the story of who we are. What ways have you found to make space and room to tell the story in your congregation?