My colleague and I visited The Generous Table on Sunday afternoon, “a multi-generational gathering of people living out the Christian faith in South Orange County.” It’s an hour-long worship service in a living room followed by a meal, and it’s designed for people who don’t go to church.
Here’s what I learned.
This isn’t hard.
Invite your neighbors. Open your door. Arrange some couches. Pick a Bible passage.
Seriously, what else is there to do?
Minda’s husband Aaron led an Bible story activity for the seven or so children who were there, and I’m confident that takes more planning than what the adults do.
This is really difficult.
There’s a huge mental barrier to be overcome in granting yourself the permission to do something like this, to invite neighbors into your house to say prayers, sing worship songs, and talk about the Bible. Over dinner, Minda got a bit emotional talking about that challenge. She knows the profile of leaders who start things like this: young, extroverted, dynamic. She’s rather introverted, a mother of four children, and she hasn’t even finished seminary. But she’s doing it.
The difficulty here is all internal. Which is why I found it easier to drive two hours to “experience” it than to just do it myself.
Music helps, and it doesn’t even have to be good
Aaron led one worship chorus on his guitar to get the gathering started, which put everybody at ease and created a worshipful atmosphere. Later, when I referred to Aaron as a “musician,” Minda chortled and called that the first time he’s been called such a thing.
Whatever. The music was good enough to do what it needed to do, and I was glad for it.
Stories, stories, stories
We read two whole chapters of Genesis, which is a longer Scripture reading than you’ll get away with in any of the churches I’ve ever been to. It feels more like a Bible study. Minda hears that a lot.
But it’s not a Bible study. Minda was prepared with some contextual and background insights, but the aim was clearly liturgical. The reflection on the story was framed around two simple questions: what did you like in the stories, and what raised questions for you?
The meal is huge
Everybody brings a dish to share. Tables get rearranged after the service, and wine is poured. The conversation flows easily while the kids play noisily in the living room. I had this thought: if you filmed what was happening here and played it back for someone–anyone–with the volume turned down, they would think it was a family gathering. More importantly, they would want to come.
It’s called “The Generous Table,” after all.
It’s meant for people who don’t go to church , but . . .
There was one person among 20 there who doesn’t go to a church. I don’t think that’s a failure of The Generous Table’s mission, but rather a testament to the yearning that people steeped in church culture have to experience authentic and intimate gatherings like this. It was a weird week; roughly half of us were there to observe and, hopefully, copy what’s happening.
Gatherings like The Generous Table are a really healthy development in the American church landscape (particularly the mainline–i.e. Presbyterian–piece of that landscape), and I’m grateful I got to join one.