Let's Do Dinner: A Worthy Experiment In Emerging Church Evangelism

Father Jim Strader is the Episcopal Chaplain at the University of Arizona, and he usually has interesting things to say about ministry to the unchurched. He posted this blog entry about this very interesting experiment in emerging church evangelism:

I'm taking my first step into forming an intentional "emergent" Christian community this weekend. Actually, I'm inviting a few of my friends from the fitness center where I go along with some other friends from campus to get together, have dinner, and talk about why "Church" doesn't work for them. Let's call it ... an outreach program (that sounds evangelical doesn't it)? I'm thinking of it as an opportunity to listen to people I like and respect. I also know that my friend Jesse can cook like a wizard; so if nothing else, we'll all go away fed, in more than one way I pray.

Here's the deal, my guess is that part of the reason the Early Church worked is because people gathered together with one another, shared a meal, and got around to talking about G-d and how they understood G-d's presence in their lives. Their "ritual" became Christian when they started centering on Jesus the Christ's life, death, and continued presence in Word, and Sacrament. Our dinner @ Ralyn and Melinda's place on Saturday is going to be sort of like that ancient gathering.This is going to be Church but it's going to be "Something Other than Church." I won't have to wear my collar there. There's no expectation about tithing 10% or filling out a membership form. It's a time for relationship-building, not for a review of canonical guidelines.

In her book Christianity for the Rest of Us Diana Butler Bass recalls the wise words of Henri Nouwen. Nouwen wrote, in his wonderful book Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (p. 51): Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. Bass adds in Christianity for the Rest of Us (p.81):

If emerging Christianity is, like its ancient ancestor, a faith of travelers, of pilgrims on a way, it should be no surprise that hospitality would, once again, find itself at the heart of Christian life.

We're having dinner @ 6 on Saturday. I think there will be 8 or 9 of us. There will be thousands of dinners going on this Saturday @ 6. Our little gathering probably won't be that much different than other dinner parties. It will be diffent in that a recently graduated communications student, a graduate student who teaches the classics, a young women who has worked with refugees, a certified personal trainer, an Episcopal priest, and other really talented people are going to drink wine, discuss what's not so good about organized Christianity, and get to know Christ and one another a tiny bit better. We're going to listen to one another and here one another's stories. My guess is that we will pray and give thanks in any number of healthy and holy ways.

It's just a first step along the emergent yet Anglican Way out here on a hot late spring Arizona evening. Pray for us.

I think this is a wonderful idea, and I am eager to read Jim's report.


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