When I started going to St. Lydia’s about 10 months ago I had already made great strides in overcoming an eating disorder, but every day is still a struggle, and it’s still not easy for me to relinquish control over what I eat. There have been one or two Sundays along the way when my anxiety about what food I might encounter at dinner church kept me from going. And to this day, I still snack before I go so I don’t arrive too hungry, in case the menu doesn’t match what I think I’m supposed to eat.
But for the most part I go, Sunday after Sunday, because my desire to be there is greater than my fear. The friends I’ve made, and what we do together nourish my heart, my spirit, my intellect. And I also know that eating in community, exposing my body to a greater variety of foods, and eating surprise meals that I have no control over are all important elements of my recovery. I keep going back because I trust that practicing, week after week, can bring about changes.
“At St. Lydia’s, we place practice before belief. It’s the practice of eating, praying, and singing together that moves us deeper into faith. Instead of trying to figure out what we believe, we’re trying to live what we practice.” That’s from the St. Lydia’s Website. It’s one of the things that drew me to the congregation before I ever showed up, and it’s what keeps me going back.
I hope most people feel that St. Lydia’s is a church we can come to with doubts about God and faith, and with fears of intimacy, of public speaking, of cheese and bread and creamy salad dressing. For all of us, I hope it’s a place where we open up our broken selves to being knocked out of our comfort zones and transformed, and to feeling loved and welcomed in the spirit of hospitality that grounds our very existence as St. Lydia’s. Church really should be a place that helps us to loosen our controlling grip on life, that nudges us toward new heights of tolerance, and that prepares us for a life that includes surprises and even some discomfort.
I suspect that lots of people at our dinner church don’t care in the least about what we eat or drink on Sunday nights. Some congregants are probably grateful that it’s a place where we eat and drink at all. But I also suspect there are others who do think about what’s at the table at St. Lydia’s. Some of us might like to have non-vegetarian options occasionally, while others might object to that. I wonder if congregants who struggle with alcohol addiction would prefer if we served juice only. Maybe some people don’t even come because they know there will be wine. And I imagine that there are other people with concerns about food and drink that I can’t even come up with.
We are a dinner church. Our practice together nourishes body and spirit. What we choose to serve at St. Lydia’s matters, but the food on our plates is just one of the ways we are fed on Sunday nights. I remember when my first grown-up boyfriend told me that he thought sex was both the most and least important part of adult relationships. I think the same is true of the food we eat at St. Lydia’s: it’s the most, and least, important part.
She can be reached at email@example.com
Picture: “Supper at Emmaus” (1601), by Caravaggio (Italian painter1573-1610)