So after three years of talking, we finally managed to run a pilot for our dinner vespers service. The reasons it took so long have primarily to do with allocation of resources. In principle we all thought it was a good idea. There really wasn't much in the way of resistance from any "old guard" that we hear about in clergy groups. It was simply that we had other priorities so it would come up, we would get excited, and we would put it away as something else demanded our attention. That is the challenge for a small church. As we become increasingly counter-cultural, the dominant culture makes it harder for us to innovate. Institutions and activities that promote reflection and down-time are more frequently seen in a negative light. Church is one of those institutions,.
The church Worship Committee took the lead on this and many of them were there last night. We have been calling it "dinner church" but it is quite possible we have been using the wrong name. I have found that church growth people are among the more doctrinaire when it comes to labeling. We have a "Pub Theology" group that almost certainly doesn't fit the accepted definition. So we settled on "Dinner Folk Vespers" because all three words have specific meaning in our context. "Dinner" is...well...dinner. "Folk" in our context means non-professional musicians leading the music on stringed instruments. We have a long tradition of that. For us "Vespers" just means worship at night.
The service was pretty basic. There was 20 minutes of structured worship, then about 20 or 30 minutes of structured conversation over dinner. We took the Maundy Thursday Communion Vespers service and then deconstructed it. The subsequently rebuilt service kept a number of the aspects of the old one. The "Invitation" and prayers of Confession and Thanksgiving were straight out of various communion materials that we have used in the past. We added a couple of poems that made use of table imagery; "Perhaps the World Ends Here" by Joy Harjo and "At Home" by Kate Barnes. Lee Manuel and I provided music and Tara Humphries, our ministerial intern, took care of much of the worship leading, set up, and general coordination that we needed to get things done. I gave the prayer. The reading was Luke 14:15-24.
We also had a couple of guiding questions based on the table image and also on the concept of God's steadfast love that appeared in a number of places in the service and, of course, will be part of what we talk about on Sunday as part of our Thanksgiving service. These questions were discussed while we ate.
It really was fun--or at least I thought so--and we will do it again. The format was conceived as a different form of communion. The meal had an intention to it. We did not "potluck" but instead made specific food requests so that the food "matched" and we weren't overwhelmed by a large number of diverse items or leftovers. That way the service was more "worship" than "social" which enabled us to engage in a different way than we are often able to.
It is probably worth noting that while we did not spend the whole meal answering the questions, beginning with the questions affected how the rest of the meal conversation proceeded afterward. It was a good conversation all around--at least at my table--and a nice break in a busy and stressful week. That said, some people mentioned that the questions and the format in which we presented them felt too structured. We need to look at that for next time. The challenge is finding a way to continue addressing the ideas from worship while at the table...at least for a little while.
The entire service took two hours, including clean up (but not set up!). It was a good first try that, I think, over time, will get better as we get used to the format and streamline some things. Logistics, in particular were tricky. In addition to the clunky question format, the two dinner tables were pretty far way from each other. We will need to think about how to remedy that in the future as well.
Still, in all it was worthwhile. What we are learning at Eliot is the same thing everyone is learning everywhere. Weekends are super-busy now as well. If we want to meet as a community of faith. We need to learn to be flexible and responsive to the world we live in. The challenge now is to grow with our sophomore effort.
Here are a couple of videos. The first is of the one hymn we sang; "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos" (also called "Deportee") which is, unfortunately, still very relevant today. I have a whole post abut the song, which you can read here.
This final one is a portion of the service, itself. It may only actually be interesting to wonky church nerds but we to need each other to share sometimes. We had technical difficulties for the first 5 minutes so the Harjo reading is missing and it opened about halfway through the Barnes reading. It ends as we prepare for dinner...