Food, tables and God's nature
Food and feasting are a part of Thanksgiving and the lives of many congregations. What does the way we eat and invite others to eat say about our understanding of the character and nature of God?
Serving in a rural North Carolina church, there was no shortage of feasting. Covered dish meals, Harvest Festival fundraisers, sunrise breakfasts, youth pizza parties, and community Thanksgiving meals were part of the rhythm of life for this small rural church.
Yet, there were people in the community without access to fresh fruits or vegetables. I presided over too many deaths caused by lifestyle-related diseases. It didn’t take me long to notice that while we feasted, others in the community were hungry. I learned that the new look of poverty was obesity. In many cases, the labor-intensive work of growing a garden had been replaced by the convenience of green beans in a can.
What does the way we eat and invite others to eat say about our understanding of the character and nature of God?
This is one of many questions that kept me awake at night during the first years of pastoral ministry. The answers I wrestled with were damning.
I realized that while the ways the church eats and invites others to eat, raises money for missions, or builds relationships across the abundant table, such eating did not reflect the character of the God of creation, the God who offers us salvation, or wholeness, through Jesus. At the center of our worship spaces was a table, where we feasted on the body and blood of Jesus. What did this table have to do with all those other tables we frequently gathered around? What did it mean for us to be “freed from sin to slavery and death.”
In 2014, I stepped away from serving as the pastor of a local church, as God led me to serve the broader church through a ministry called Life Around the Table. Our mission is to nourish community around the table. We invite, encourage and equip clergy, congregations and communities to eat together with God’s intentions for all creation. We acknowledge that the church has often refused the invitation of Jesus to be free from the slavery of the industrial food systems, to foods that promote dis-ease, rather than health. We are all enslaved by the productionist economies of the systems that feed us.
Life Around the Table
Life Around the Table is a ministry of the North Carolina Annual Conference. It is a ministry with and for all creation. We proclaim that because of our baptisms into Jesus, we have been “freed from sin to slavery and death,” and, therefore, are members of the new creation. Consequently, we have access to the grace necessary to be advocates for and members of a new reality in which we are not held captive by the industrial food system and all the unjust conclusions of that system. But that means we will need a change — or to use the theological term, a metanoia — in the ways we eat and invite others to eat.
We offer two ways to begin that change, that metanoia.
Sabbath Life is a retreat-based day apart for clergy and ministry professionals that ties together Sabbath, creation and delight. Once a month, clergy gather at a local farm and are reminded of who God is by learning from the life of the soil and seed, the chickens and the goats.
Eating Together Faithfully is a framework for conversation about the ways we eat and invite others to eat. We ask ourselves the often damning question, “Does the way you eat and invite others to eat glorify the God of Creation and New Creation?” Then, because we have been given the grace to engage in difficult conversations, we share a meal together as we explore Food that LAUGHS, an initialism for food that is Local (incarnation), Affordable (grace), Uncomplicated (ordinary made holy), Good (justice), Healthy (flourishing) and Seasonal (time and liturgy).
The next Eating Together Faithfully facilitator training event is April 29-May 2, 2020 at Methodist Theological School of Ohio and Seminary Hill Farm. Contact Life Around the Table for more information.