(adapted by Robin from an article written by St. Lydia's pastor)
Here is a simple but profound story! It is a story of one faith community that decided together to do church differently…to do something intentionally to act on the words of Jesus to "go, make disciples." In a world that magnifies success as large, numbers, money, etc., this congregation is not only an outlier but an example of what Jesus does in and through the lives of His followers in surprisingly delightful ways. So read the article and wonder/pray with me…what can God do in and through YOU?
One thousand square feet. It's not much space for a church. About the same square footage as two bowling lanes, to give you an idea. "Why so small?" you might ask. The answer is both economical and theological. Economically, this faith community/church is located in Brooklyn, and 1,000 square feet is what they can afford. Theologically, this congregation has discovered that building big community happens on a small scale: 30 people around dinner tables, sharing a meal they've made together.
St. Lydia's, the five-year-old church is a Dinner Church. This means that the people gather each week to share what they call a "sacred meal:" a worship service that takes place around the table. This meal is patterned after those shared by Christians in the first few centuries of the church, which evolved into our current day communion celebrations with participants sharing the bread and the cup. The congregation doesn't need much space, but after renting by the night for five years, they have found they were ready for a place of their own. And so in the summer of 2104, the church moved to a storefront in Brooklyn — the kind of storefront that might be a restaurant or a shop but instead going to be a church.
Dinner Church takes place on a small scale. You might call it a micro-scale. In a macro-city like New York, one can feel like a tiny cog in a giant machine. Shuffled down crowded city streets, elbowed on subway train cars and stuffed into elevators, many of us feel nameless and unseen for much of our day. Enter Dinner Church, a gathering of 30 or so folks over a meal the people cook together. Everyone is known by name (they are all wearing name tags) and folks there for the first time are invited to chop vegetables or set out silverware.
This faith community sees the hunger for an experience of intimacy and the sacred reflected in the culture at large best understood around a table of food. Their renewed interest in the local, the artisanal, the reclaimed, seemed to the pastor and the congregation to be a yearning for a life that takes place at a smaller scale. They distinctly decided that they wanted to know the person who made our bread in a bakery, not a sprawling, steely factory in some distant, nameless place. They wanted to know the smell of the earth where our vegetables came from. They wanted to make things from scratch. In short, they wanted to know themselves and each other on a deep level.
Just like bread from the kitchen, St. Lydia's comes in batches. A church of 30 people can't hope to be financially sustainable, supporting a pastor and providing an operating budget. And so they planned to grow by batch number instead of by batch size. In 2014, they started worshipping (in the dinner church format) on Monday nights in addition to Sunday nights. They keep growing this way, adding more services as they go. In this way, a church the size of a couple of bowling lanes can sustain a pretty sizable congregation, and afford that New York rent.
And so, they are a church, with our thousand square feet. They designed a space for a Dinner Church. They have no steeple, no bell tower, no rows of pews or stained glass windows. During a community planning process, the architect asked the congregation, "What makes space sacred?" Quiet, they told her. Beautiful things made by hand. Natural materials. The way the light comes in.
The congregation designed a space to direct people toward God, not by turning their eyes to a far-removed altar, but by turning instead to one another. The most dominant feature will be three ovular tables for ten. The bowed shape ensures that everyone at the table can make eye contact with everyone else. In addition, they crafted a space that intentionally invites people to participate. Open shelves holding plates and glasses encourage newcomers to jump in and set tables. It's easy to see where everything is stored — easy to take part. Like a Montessori classroom, the design to encourages interaction with both materials and people.
And what happens around those tables, designed to encourage the people of God to see one another, face to face? It starts small, with relationships built around the table. Every time a congregation sits down with someone from whom they would otherwise be divided, the Kingdom of God is experienced. The conversations…doing the dishes together…knowing people takes place on the smallest level possible: one human sitting down with another. But in doing so, we encounter something huge: the limitless presence of God.
So, what do you think? How could this be something that "works" for you as a faith community/church experience? Would you find yourself looking for a community experience like this? Any specific responses that you have to this vision?