Some people have no patience for children in church. They wiggle, they make noise, and occasionally they shout, “What did the old guy say?” in the middle of the sermon (in my defense, I’ve always been curious, and I just couldn’t hear what the elderly priest said). Other people love seeing children in church and welcome them, noise and all. Whether to bring children to worship and what to do with children once they’re there are age old questions for congregations. We’ve likely all met a parent who placates their children with snacks and coloring books. But we also teach children to never eat in church unless it’s the Eucharist. We say or we’ve had someone say to us that eating in church is disrespectful. But why is food and eating disrespectful?
The Bible is full of stories about dinners and food. Clearly, Jesus liked a good meal with friends and with the people to whom he ministered. Indeed, the Eucharist itself is presented in the form of a meal. Gathering for a meal and literally “breaking bread” was both highly ritualized and important in the culture of first century Palestine than it is in the contemporary United States. The table one dined out was as much a social statement as it was a political statement. It conveyed not only welcome, but active support. So when Jesus is questioned on why he dines with tax collectors and other supposed sinners, he is also being asked why he supports them and their “lifestyle.”
Sound familiar? June is Pride Month and we spend this month celebrating the Queer community in our many and diverse identities. But parts of society, parts of government, parts of the church would prefer to see us excluded because our “lifestyle” challenges their conception of what it means to be a decent person. Legislators propose laws to erode hard won freedoms and cities wonder if it will cause more harm than good to acknowledge their queer citizens with even the most basic recognition like Pride flags. Yet, there now exist more Pride festivals around the world than at any other time in history (over 70 festivals in Ohio alone this summer!).
Lamenting the lack of food in his church’s service, the American philosopher Bart Simpson states, “It’s not fair! The Catholics get a cookie and booze at church.” So why do we collectively deride eating in church? When I lived in Vermont, the St. Paul’s Burlington (the cathedral for the Diocese of Vermont) made their Good Friday service a meal served right in the nave of the cathedral. That model of worship with a meal is nothing new. Christians have always gathered for meals and worship. In New York, St. Lydia’s, an Episcopal congregation, gathers, cooks a meal together, and only then proceeds into worship. There are discussions happening here in Ohio to do something similar. The message is not the eating and drinking, but the sharing of life together.
Have you ever eaten in church? How is your gathering for worship a sharing of life lived together?
Let us pray: Dear God, thank you for giving us time together to share our lives as you have shared your life with us. Grant us the grace to look beyond what is called “respectful” and see you in the people around us. Move us to care more about people than about supposed “lifestyles.” We ask this through your Child, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Blessings, friends, on your weeks! Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you!