We’ve been trying something a little different for Lent this year. Instead of scrambling to make soup, eat supper in the church basement and then have a worship devotion, our midweek Lenten devotion has gone public.
Each Wednesday, we’ve met in a local restaurant, eaten a meal, shared readings, table discussion based on a Scripture passage, and been home in time for young kids (and old pastors) to be in bed.
It took awhile for this idea to gel. Finding the right spot was important. Someplace that can seat 10 or so together to allow easy discussion. So it can't be too noisy. Diners work well. Or a family restaurant. Even a fast food restaurant can work. Though they tend to be on the noisy side and tough for people with hearing issues. Then there’s the ethical issue of patronizing profitable fast food chains paying an “un-living” wage to their employees.
All of that was considered as we chose places to meet. Once you find the right venue, you might be surprised by some of what you’ll discover. Here’s what we found.
Taking our worship public has had two particular advantages:
It frees up time for working families to enjoy a devotional focus at midweek. Getting the evening meal together for the family can be challenging enough. Preparing a meal for up to 10 extra people, not to mention lugging it to church, the set up and clean up, was becoming a pressured event that achieved the exact opposite of what we were aiming for with a midweek devotion. Going public changed all that.
The opportunity of being the church in public. Our presence in the restaurant is a tacit invitation to the other diners to join us. Or at least, listen in and consider the conversation. I notice that our conversation, and indeed, our entire time together, has a more relaxed feel to it. More natural and spontaneous. That was a kind of an unexpected bonus.
It's important then to make a sign identifying who you are and inviting others to join you. And don’t structure the program too much. Allow the Spirit room to work, enjoy the company of your church family and the presence of God among you, and know that you are almost certainly making an impression on the people around you as well as nurturing your own faith.