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Supper, bringing people to church in Lancaster, one meal at a time

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Years ago when I attended St. Martin in the Fields, in Chestnut Hill, they launched a community dinner program that they called SUPPER at St. Martins.

The focus was simple, provide a free home-cooked meal for the whole family at the church on a mid-week evening, once a month. Over the years this program has grown to encompass four parishes in and around the Philadelphia area.

When I found myself in my parish internship at Hope Church, I did social analysis (simply getting to know the people and their parish personality) and determined that they love to cook for one another. In fact, every Sunday after church they have a parish meal.

Clearly they are good at doing this, so I decided to launch a “Supper” ministry at Hope Church for my Stevenson School project for one of my classes. Part of the appeal for me was the timing of the “Shaped by Faith” launch in our diocese. The Rev. Jennifer Mattson and I had long talked about having a Community Supper ministry at St. Thomas, so we decided to advocate that both parishes launch in the same month, and after the launch, mutually advertise on a common schedule.

Hope church claimed the 2nd Wednesday of the month, St. Thomas claimed the 3rd Thursday of the month.

For St. Thomas that is Thursday night, the 21st of November. Hope launched Wednesday, November 13th.

It was a mob scene, 50 people came – which equals and at times would surpass Sunday morning attendance at Hope Church. 50% of the people who came were people that I have not met in over six months serving at the church. They were comprised of friends, family, returning friends, or family, or just plain new guests. 25% of the people who came were children.

After Supper we hosted a brief, family prayer service by candlelight. 50% of the people came across the street to participate. It was a lovely time of prayer and sharing.

My ultimate hope is that over time Hope and St. Thomas will continue to champion their own programs but advertise them together, and that two other parishes in the convocation may do take on week one and week four of the month.

The parallel narratives to Shaped by Faith – I HOPE – are not lost on anyone. Especially when you consider you have a strong small RIM parish, and a strong “downtown” parish working together as mutual colleagues in ministry through the affirming Jesus centered work of feeding people. I’d rather the image of Shaped by Faith be of a happy grouping of coordinated community dinners, than a specter of meetings and consolidation talks (which sadly is still most of what I hear on the street). I love the potluck image, each bring their own unique dish to a hearty banquet….good stuff…right!??!

I can’t strike the whole chord of what is going to move us forward as a church in Shaped by Faith, but I can bang on the notes that I have and hope they resonate with people.

I’m like the ghost of Christmas present at Hope Church because my internship is drawing to a close in just two months – but at this point, I’ve made the program very volunteer focused, the prayer service does not require ordained presence, and I fully expect the people to self-drive it.

Other points of interest regarding how it was launched at Hope Church – I coordinated my preaching to prepare the way for the Supper ministry, and we even have written a special “Collect” to be included in our Sunday liturgy for Sunday services the week before Supper.

Peace, Bradley Mattson

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