Years ago one of the members of my then congregation told me that she really appreciated how I kept worship on Sunday morning within the hour and interesting enough for her to feel that she hadn’t wasted her time getting to the highlight of her week: morning tea with her friends after. She meant it as a compliment. And proceeded to tell me about predecessors who had not been as engaging, or even worse, had taken the service regularly beyond the one hour she was prepared to give it.

I spend hours preparing worship, choosing the hymns, writing the prayers and am still, after 40 years in the pulpit, so stomach clenchingly nervous on a Sunday morning that I can’t eat breakfast. I’m hungry by the time we get to morning tea – and exhausted – and not half as engaged in morning tea as I would want to be because I struggle to get my brain into ‘social’ gear.

I’ve always remembered that comment as a friendly reminder that community and fellowship, tea, coffee, Arnotts biscuits and a piece of slice if you’re lucky, are a fundamental part of what it means to be Church. I think Jesus understood that long before I did.

The New Testament doesn’t talk much about worship and liturgy, about orders of service and hymn books, Church buildings or Church music. It talks a lot about food. Food in people’s homes, picnics on the beach or on the hills somewhere, lavish dinners and impromptu sharing, meals structured by tradition and meals completely unstructured and breaking every social convention.

Bread, wine, fish, more wine, a fatted calf, manna from heaven, unleavened bread, water and, let’s change that into… more wine.

The Hebrew scriptures also speak of food at every turn, in the wilderness, at home, with friends, with God, with all the nations on a Mountain, the day before fleeing oppression, and the day after the return from Exile.

It is there where people hear and tell the stories, it is there they meet God, it is there where they receive nurture that satisfies more than their physical needs.

Think about it! If we closed all Church buildings and we didn’t have any opportunity to go to worship somewhere on Sunday morning, what would we do? We would do what people of faith, Christian or otherwise have always done, everywhere. We would gather in each other’s homes, we would gather on the beach or on the hills, we would come together in cafes, upper rooms, backrooms, living rooms and we would share and reflect, and sing a few songs perhaps, and say a prayer, but most of all we would eat and drink together and as Christians remember especially the one who came and welcomed everyone around the table of love, compassion, peace and healing.

We would share the stories about his body broken and his blood spilt, the story of his abiding presence with us. Everywhere.

Anneke Oppewal
Presbytery Minister: Pastoral Care