I've been attending Highrock North Shore since our first service, which occurred soon after I moved to Salem. As a newcomer to the area, my primary interest in a church was finding a community and making actual human connections.
So what first attracted me to Highrock was that, as a church plant, they were looking for immediate engagement. There were no social dues to pay before becoming part of the community.
Today, three years later, we are still a relatively young and small church, but we might feel a little more inaccessible. We don't have as many needs anymore, so there aren't as many blank spaces waiting to be filled.
Which means that there are visitors here, and even regular attenders here, who are still looking to make connections and find close community. As we grow, we need to find new ways to make spaces.
One of the ways we're doing this is by organizing monthly neighborhood eat-ups, which serve as an occasion both to strengthen existing ties and provide an on-ramp for newcomers into Church life.
We all know that having people over can be stressful; there isn't enough time or the food isn't cooked through or there's too many people coming. Sometimes I'm more of a Martha than Mary, obsessing over ultimately insignificant details. And my home is a far cry from the ideal hosting set-up; my low-rent apartment has ugly wallpaper and a peeling ceiling and the laundry room also happens to be the kitchen.
But there are many more things I like about hosting. I like making food with my hands, taking flour dust and specks of sugar and butter and somehow fashioning them into a cake. I like having a clean house. I like eating leftovers. I like showing love to friends and welcome to strangers through the sustaining offering of my time, resources, and home.
I've found that I can't always count on others to stop being busy and invite me into their lives. So I invite them into mine. I don't have my own family here, but I do have a home. I have a big table and many chairs.
This table has been the birthplace of new friendships. It has been the site of inadvertent matchmaking. It is where I have received counsel and traded stories, discovered books in common and shared TV recommendations. Yesterday it was the site of a baby's first solid foods, as he smacked down on butternut squash with his four brand new teeth.
And last month it was the site of the West Salem/Peabody Eat Up. Fourteen people placed their offerings of food and drink on the kitchen table, and we gathered on couches and folding chairs in the living room. The young and the old, immigrants and New England natives, church founders and first timers, neighbors and strangers, we rested together before the coming labors of the week, and we left refreshed by the blessing of community and good food.
Author Shauna Niequest has a lot of great things to say about food and community, so I want to briefly share a quote from her book, Bread and Wine. "It's not, actually, strictly, about food for me. It's about what happens when we come together, slow down, open our homes, look into one another's faces, listen to one another's stories….It happens when we enter the joy and the sorrow of the people we love, and we join together at the table to feed one another and be fed, and while it's not strictly about food, it doesn't happen without it. Food is the starting point, the common ground, the thing to hold and handle, the currency we offer one another."
So, if you haven't already, consider joining us at the table for a November eat up, which is coming up soon, a sort of prelude to the great American eat up, Thanksgiving. You can contact Katie Antonell (firstname.lastname@example.org), who has been doing a great job coordinating the Eat Ups.
And beyond just attending, take the opportunity to meet and invite a visitor to join you at the Eat Up, or celebrate an anniversary with a party, or set up a meal with someone you'd like to know better. Regardless of how much or how little you have in terms of family space, or cooking ability, try to find ways to minister through hospitality, to invite others into your home, welcoming the lonely, celebrating God's sustenance, bolstering friends, providing rest for the overworked, and enjoying God's presence as you gather around the table.