Common Eating (Meals)

Common Eating is an idea for a university of seminary type course that has been sitting in the back of my mind for several years now. Over the next several weeks I hope to go through each of those posts and update and rethink my way through them. I’ll be leaving each new post at the top of my blog for a few days. Any new material will be printed in bold.

The original post and the first update can be found below.

Since I first posted this, almost eight years ago, there has been a movement within the church to put a greater emphasis on eating as a significant part of the life of the church. The most notable group within this movement is the Dinner Church Collective. C3NYC is another group that is doing something similar as well.

Common Eating cookies
Common eating stresses that food is meant to be shared.

Now it may seem that because these groups are growing that such a course as I’m proposing isn’t necessary. I would argue that on the other hand it is more necessary than ever. Many of these approaches to doing church sprang up from the practical need to find a way to reinvigorate declining forms of church.
Having taken these steps, it would be good for the church as whole to be able to step back and do some deep and serious theological reflection on the ways in which forming church communities around on our beliefs and practices. This is especially true if we wish to examine models of inclusion and exclusion. In many ways such new expressions of the Church will open the doors to people who felt left of the outside before, but at the same time it’s possible that other will feel that they cannot be included. 
Another big thing that has happened since the first wrote this is the reclamation work being done by writers such as Michael W. Twitty, Kelly Fanto Deetz, and Adrian E. Miller(aka the Soul Food Scholar). These and many other writers are examining the ways in which North American Cuisine was built, in many cases, by plagiarizing the work of enslaved people, and turning it into the food of the white, settler majority. These sort of food justice issues are becoming more prominent and are something to be included in our own theology of food. 
More than ever, though, I think the real critical question that we need to be asking ourselves is: What is the purpose of food: Is it primarily there so that we can keep the biological mechanisms of our bodies running. Or, is food primarily there, so that we are forced to stop, sit together, and over food building and strengthening our communities. I’m sure it’s more likely a combination of both. 
Perhaps another way to put it is: To what extent are we willing to allow food to always privilege the individual as individual? This is a particularly interesting question when we put it into the context of our food preferences. This question is also one that has become quite a bit more complicated in relationship to the increased numbers of food allergies that exist. 
I think the overriding thought for this course would be: “Grace isn’t something that we say before or after a meal, but rather what we must always be extending to our fellow eaters.”

Back to Top
I was reading a couple of Twitter comments today involving food and wine that had been posted by @ReverendChef and they got me thinking, what might a seminary course on “common eating” look like.  I’m using the term “common eating” as a play on the ideas of common prayer and common worship that are so much a part of Anglican practice.

Common Eating Supper
Church supper food is one of the areas I want to think about when it comes to Common Eating.

One of the ideas that this appeals to me so much is that as a single person, common eating, is not a major part of my life.  Yet, eating together is one of the activities that defines our lives together, from the family dinner to gathering around the Lord’s Table for the Eucharistic meal.  The focus will be on eating together, so as such, it will not be a course on food justice, but as we reflect on eating together, I intend to structure it in such a way that I hope such issues would naturally result from the discussions the class is having.
This course will also be practical.  Seminary is supposed to prepare people for ministry, and it does so, much in the way that mini-golf prepares people to take on the greens at Augusta National.  The concept is the same, but the reality is greatly different.  This class will involve developing a lived theology, ie we’ll be trying to practice as we learn.
So, every class will begin with a meal.  I realize that this might be the biggest hurdle to such a class, but holding it in an off campus location might solve this problem in some situations.  This meal would be prepared by the students in teams of 2 or more.  This will be a limited budget exercise as well, (I will have to work out the details).
A trip to a soup kitchen to prepare for and eat a meal with its clients might be part of such a class. Inviting a group of strangers in for a meal might also be part of such a class.  A Eucharist will be included every week (a willingness to take part in the Eucharistic practices of other traditions will be a requirement for acceptance into the course). Of course, if such a course was taught in a denominational setting, this likely wouldn’t be an issue.
In addition to dealing with material from the Biblical text, the course would possibly include the writings on food and eating by Robert Farrar Capon and Margaret Visser, along with cookbooks such as the “More With Less,” cookbook put out by the Mennonite Central Committee(I did say this was going to be practical).
My bibliography for Eucharistic Eating is ever growing, and would definitely provide a wide range of background reading material for any such course.
Is there enough material in the subject for a thirteen week course?  I don’t know, but I suspect there is.  Fall suppers, church potlucks and picnics all fit within the parameters of such a class.  Scruples in eating (veganism and vegetarianism for example).  Example behaviour for a priest/minister when offered tea, etc. on home visitation.  Food and drink.  Corporate fasting and feasting.  These are just a few things, that may benefit from deeper, more focused thought and action.
One of things that I have been thinking about since first writing this post is the inclusive/exclusive nature of dining, particularly as it relates to a church community. How might a parish better use eating together to broaden it’s welcome to the community around it, or conversely how might a use eating together to keep people out of the life of the community.
Over the next three weeks I hope to flesh out these ideas, and if it is feasible, I would like to have a PDF outline finished by that time.  As I prepare this, please feel free to leave suggestion in the comments, especially if you have reading suggestions.

More From Dining with Donald

29 thoughts on “Common Eating (Meals)”

  1. What a good idea! ‘Commons’ is often used to mean food or dining hall so Common Eating sounds like a lesson in common sense!
    I once spent a weekend at a Buddhist monastery where the monks hosted an open supper for the community every Friday. From memory it was free or very cheap but the idea wasn’t primarily to feed to hungry or the homeless, the rationale was to provide the wherewithal for the sacrament of eating together together with an opportunity for meeting other people and quizzing the monks about their life and faith. It was a riot and the food was excellent. I can see a seminary offering some spin on this to good effect.
    As regards your reading list let me offer the following : How to Cook Your Life : from Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment by Dogen and Kosho Uchiyama Roshi. The Way of the Hen : Zen and the Art of Raising Chickens by Clea Danaan. Savor boy Tich Nhat Hahn and Dr Lilian Chung. Looks like the Buddhists have given this area some serious thought so no harm in tapping in to their wisdom?
    But also and by no means least tune into BBC Radio Four’s The Food Programme (you can get all episodes going back years) which frequently explores the morality of food production, the difficulty of eating healthily and with awareness in Western culture etc etc.
    Good luck!

    • Hi Elizabeth:
      Thanks for dropping by and especially for sharing your story, and your thoughts on the subject. I will definitely try and look up some of those books as well as check into the food programme.

  2. Thank you so much for following my blog. I was just having a conversation with someone the other day about this very thing. How food and taking a meal together is such an important aspect of our culture. It is the common thread in every social thing we do-holidays, celebrations, parties, Friday nights with friends-even catching up with someone over a cup of coffee. Food comforts and bonds us together, I suppose. I think Jesus understood that very well.

  3. Very intriguing. Would you consider writing about Anglicans in recovery who take communion in one kind since wine can pose a risk? I am hopeful that the discussions between the Episcopal and Methodist churches will lead to a grape juice option for Episcopalians.

    • Hi Averyl. Communion in one kind and the question of wine for people in recovery is one thing I hope to cover. The Episcopalian-Lutheran connection may also lead to an increased likelihood of a grape juice option being introduced.
      A few years ago I did supply in an Anglican Parish in Winnipeg where they put out grape juice along with the wine. Firstly, for the children, but also because one Sunday a Mennonite pastor had visited, and the priest wanted to make sure he would feel comfortable receiving communion as well.

  4. Thank you for following our blog.Compliments for your blog and for this important idea of Common Eating.Actually eating together is still such an important moment in Italian life:families and friends .We’ll follow you.

  5. You may have noticed I’ve been digging in early church history and discovered my Protestant churches have not really educated me very well in what the early church was like. I discovered the “Welcoming Table” of the Lord’s Supper. The early church seems to fit very much into what you’re talking about here.I would be interested in what you may write on this subject. I want something much closer to the early church. I’ve been in intense study of the Catholic influence on things too, and I have a close friend who is Catholic. I’ve attended a couple Masses with him. But I am drawn to a simple table. Catholic is not for me either, but I say this, to say this, my site was stuck on 49 Followers, and I kept watching for that number 50 to hit. And when it did, it turns out to be a Priest! A Priest who is talking about studies concerning a Common Table! Yikes! I was shocked and also very pleased! The Lord has surprised me with #50! I’ll be checking in. I’m glad you visited the site. Feel free to leave comments.

    • Thanks for dropping by and sharing some of your story. The Eucharist has more to discover all the time. As I was follower 50 for you, your comment pushed me passed my last year’s comment total. So, thanks for that.

  6. Thanks for following our blog! I noticed you were follower #50 for someone above – you were secretsofphiladelphia’s #1!! I enjoyed reading your post and love the class idea. Even though our family doesn’t practice any religion, the idea of communal eating has been an important part of my life. Throughout my childhood and early adulthood, the one time each year that our family always managed to get together was Passover at my grandparents – they would even change the date to ensure everyone could attend. Friends of all faiths and family (Jewish and Protestant – my parents came from different religious backgrounds) would gather for this holiday that centers around food. I have wonderful memories of these meals – thanks for the reminder!

    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I’m glad to hear that your family put so much emphasis on eating together. Hopefully they continue to be times of hope, peace, love, and healing for your family.

  7. Well thank you for visiting my blog which has led me to yours. What an interesting idea — common eating. More and more when I see a line of cars at the drive-through or other diners gathered around a table all glued to their smartphones, I feel saddened that the activity of sharing a meal seems to be almost obsolete. Truly, I hope you are able to create some enthusiasm for common eating so that it will flourish once again. Perhaps offer some healthy eating suggestions for those church dinners and a walk around the block or church property after the meal for some good digestion? Wishing you all the best with this very worthy project!

    • Thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment. I too find the lost of the practice of eating together lamentable. Eating and light exercise such as walking seems like a great idea. A way of extending the time spent together. Once again thanks for reading and commenting. I hope there is opportunity for more conversation in the future.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: