Last year our family took a vacation to Washington, D.C. In the weeks before we left several folks recommended that we MUST put the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History on our things-to-do list. I confess that the name instantly turned me off. Cavernous halls of large displays of dinosaur bones instantly came to mind. Not my thing! (Sorry, dino lovers.) Well, we went—mostly to say that we did to all of those who were determined that we go. It was AMAZING!
The best part was the interactive education area for tweens and teens called Q?rius (pronounced curious). Part of this area is the Collection Zone--a giant room of hundreds of drawers with thousands of specimens to be taken out of storage, touch, put under a microscope and explore. Our minds were blown. Instead of walking through halls of reported information about displays, the museum has turned itself inside out and given the visitor the ability to tap into one’s own curiosity and do hands-on exploration. (See more at https://qrius.si.edu/what-qrius-experience.)
As a parent, I’m a big believer in stoking a child’s curiosity and keeping a child’s zeal for learning alive. We do this by reading books together to do deep-dives on topics of interest, asking open-ended questions, and googling things together that we don’t know. In our parenting we confess the limits of our understanding and knowledge. But Q?rius was a place where my husband and I could step out of the role of broker or facilitator and just let our child explore with abandon.
It made me wonder…is there a way to turn the church inside out in such a way that those who encounter it might explore and seek out answers to their own questions and curiosities about the Christian life and scriptures? What would that look like?
[After reading the poem “The Plastic Angel” by Ann Weems, extend the invitation by saying. . .]
Sometimes we come to this table feeling sort of plastic, as if our own annunciations are feeble—filled with doubt. But from the beginning, this table has always been a place that made room for those who doubt, those who misunderstand, those who talk a good game, those who miss the messages, those who loose hope, and those who lack glory. And, yet, Jesus welcomed them around the table.
There is a place for us here.
[See Ann Weems, “The Plastic Angel,” in Kneeling in Bethlehem (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1987), 43. Currently available to be viewed via Google Books.]
Our recent conversations at worship have focused on the Protestant Reformation as we celebrate its 500th anniversary. It’s amazing to consider the legacies of the reformers—scripture in the vernacular, the priesthood of all believers, and the elevation of hymn singing, to name a few. Where would simple models of church be today if not for the reformers who sometimes gave their lives for a simpler, more accessible church that felt more true to their beliefs?
Yet, 500 years later, it seems like the reformation remains incomplete. If we are each invited into the ministry of all believers, and God is available to us and worthy of our worship at any time and place, then surely there is more reform to be received in God’s reign. God is not finished with us yet.
If you were to write 95 theses to the church today, what conversations might they spark? Are there reforms or protests that you are feeling called to articulate or help enact?
One of the many benefits of attending the Leadership Academy hosted by the Disciples of Christ’s Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation is that they assign you a coach that will journey with you for a while. Potluck Church’s behind-the-scenes coach is Dr. Preston Adams—a man who has known the joys, challenges and pitfalls of starting new efforts, including new churches. The role of the coach is to ask questions, to listen and to return us back to our vision and mission when we find ourselves overwhelmed or adrift. The coach holds us accountable, without being paternalistic. Nurturing questions drive the conversation forward.
If you are starting a new congregation or ministry, let me encourage you to seek out a formal coaching relationship that will journey with you over the challenges and through the transitions and doubt-filled wilderness times. Find a coach that will pray for you and your ministry, celebrate with you at the smallest of victories and help you to see and keep watch. Because it is through sustained attention and focus that you will see God building your ministry.
Thank you, Dr. Adams and Hope Partnership.
When I was a child, my mother kept a sourdough starter—this quart-sized mason jar of yucky-looking, beige goo. I didn’t exactly understand how the jar, which took up precious shelf space in the refrigerator and got pushed to the back of the fridge over the course of the week, related to the two loaves of bread that she baked every seventh day. But I knew that it was worth keeping, because something in that jar produced the most amazing breakfast bread. All you needed was a pat of butter to melt over the warm bread, and you were fortified for the day.
My job wasn’t to feed the starter, or leaven the dough, or bake the bread. My role in this operation was to take the second loaf, still warm enough to sweat in the ziplock bag, to a neighbor. I don’t know how Mom would do the choosing of which house was in need of the bread, but she did. Then she’d call for me, and I knew it was time to begrudgingly get on my shoes and traipse across the street to go for a visit with one of the neighbors and deliver a loaf of bread.
Mom built a leavened neighborhood for my childhood—one abundant, generous loaf at a time.
In the early months of worshiping together as Potluck Church, we intentionally took our time to slowly establish a culture of trust. We each led by example in opening up our lives to one another and daring to share our doubts. But very quickly we came to realize that building trust was not hard around the table. Something about the table and the meal and the sharing of food opened us up to one another—even newcomers and strangers—in a deep way.
In a research article, “A recipe for friendship: Similar food consumption promotes trust and cooperation,” Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach write about how their study found that people who eat similar foods are more trusting of one another. Even though our meals are potluck, and our plates are somewhat varied based on self-selection, just the act of eating from a common table together, in itself, builds significant, deep, and seemingly lasting trust.
[See article: http://home.uchicago.edu/~kwoolley/Woolley&FishbachJCP.pdf. Hear more on NPR’s Morning Edition (Feb. 2, 2017): “Why Eating the Same Food Increases People’s Trust and Cooperation” http://www.npr.org/2017/02/02/512998465/why-eating-the-same-food-increases-peoples-trust-and-cooperation]
More than a recipe book, Maggie Stuckey’s, Soup Night: Recipes for Creating Community Around a Pot of Soup documents some of the many locations where neighbors and friends are gathering together regularly for a meal and connection. It’s a beautifully written and compiled collection—a how-to book that encourages the reader to cook up two seasonal pots of soup and invite some folks to sit together and eat. It warms my heart to read of how lives are connected and communities are built by these events, and yet we envision more.
Potluck Church is not just about eating together regularly; it’s about living out our faith in community. The questions that we ask one another give us a rhythm of accountability to ourselves and one another. We stop weekly to ask ourselves how we’ve experienced God and to honestly reflect on how we’ve lived out our commitments to follow Christ.
We don’t all have the same beliefs or the same hopes, but the common meal (made of various dishes and flavors) and the communion are symbols of the oneness that we find.
(See Maggie Stuckey. Soup Night: Recipes for Creating Community Around a Pot of Soup Storey Publishing, LLC, 2013.)
written by Rachel
Set a table, invite Christ and others, leave an empty chair, serve up some powerful questions, and break bread.