I don’t know what it is about food, but there is something about it that causes people to chat and open up. It’s no coincidence that Jesus has been said to have ‘eaten his way through the gospels.’ He clearly saw food as something significant. And I always feel better when I find I’m on the same side of a discussion as Jesus. It just feels better innit.
For that reason, not long after I came to this church, I instituted community groups in homes rather than a central midweek meeting at the church building. There was something about the home environment that helped discussion and openness. But not only did we put things in homes, we also insisted on making sure our community groups started with food.
So now, every Tuesday night (except the first of the month where we have a whole church prayer meeting at our building), three groups meet in three different homes in different parts of the borough. We spend an hour eating some food and, both figuratively and sometimes literally, chewing the fat. We then spend the following hour either praying, doing a Bible study or getting some practical training in mission.
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about sticking food at the front end of your home groups (or whatever you call them). Here are some things that happen when you do.
People talk more freely
I don’t know why they do, I’ve never figured it out, but they do. There is something about a plate of food that causes people to open up. Maybe it’s the freedom to not speak, because you’re busy shovelling chunks of chicken into your mouth or something, I don’t know. But people open up. They tell you about their day, their week, what’s going on at work, their kids. And if you’re not about the business of knowing what is going on in the lives of your church members, I’m not really sure what business you’ve got claiming to be about the work of discipleship.
People listen eagerly
Just as I don’t understand why people talk more readily with food, I don’t really understand why they listen more eagerly either. But they do. If I were guessing, I’d imagine it’s because they are free to just eat. They can sit quietly, without there being an expectation on them to speak, because they are eating. As they busy themselves eating, they also start listening.
I do know why and how this one happens. People see others serving them and want to serve themselves. They like receiving other people’s food and want to start serving others with their food. Sometimes we get exotic, gourmet stuff. Other times, we get beans on toast. And both are great. The point isn’t really the specific food itself, the point is people serving and being served. Everybody takes a turn serving food and everybody get a go receiving other people’s food. It encourages service.
Multiculturalism finds expression
Don’t mishear me here. I don’t want to suggest that a plate of food resolves all the sinful ethnic tensions that might exist in your church. That would be as absurd a suggestion as it is untrue. Nor am I saying that you have made it in respect to a Biblical multiculturalism if you serve ghormeh sabzi. But it is certainly true that serving a range of foods is an expression – albeit a small one – of multiculturalism. It is also true that everyone eating it, even if the flavours are foreign to them and maybe not what they might choose for themselves, is another expression of brotherly multiculturalism. As we give people room to express their culture, and we show respect by sharing in their cultural expression, we are giving room for more than the dominant culture alone.