I never knew that Mexican food could become a part of my spiritual practice, but growing up I began to equate chicken soft tacos with church. In a small town, there aren’t many restaurant options. However, during middle school we were finally blessed with a restaurant named “Little Mexico.” I’m not really sure when it happened, but at some point it became understood that Little Mexico would be the central meeting place for most people in town following Sunday church services. My sister and I would (occasionally) grumble under our breath about our Baptist pastor’s lengthy sermon, for fear it might cut into our precious lunchtime. “If he doesn’t wrap it up, the Methodists are definitely going to beat us to lunch and hijack all the long tables.” Somehow week after week, they were always victorious in the race to lunch.
Often my family would grab others from church to join us, and the one-hour meal stretched to two or three as we casually strolled from table to table chatting with friends in the community. For a while, our ritual was so predictable that servers stopped asking for our order. They already knew exactly what we wanted. Sometimes we re-hashed the sermon or dissected musical choices, but mostly we simply laughed, shared stories and fought over cheese dip.
After moving to northern Virginia, there were times when I would experience intense cravings for Little Mexico. “Why?” I wondered. By culinary standards, it is not necessarily the best Mexican cuisine I’ve ever tasted. (If you are reading this from Big Stone Gap, I apologize, but I speak truth. Okay yes the cheese dip wins). However, I would still rate this as one of my all-time favorite restaurants. I believe it is because of what it represents. This average strip-mall eatery is symbolic of the importance of a shared meal. It is communal and tugs on a primal need we have as humans.
Early Christians understood the importance of a shared meal, and Jesus often used these as opportunities to teach. Jesus dined with the unholy, causing outrage amongst religious leaders yet providing a shining example for inclusion. He did not adhere to social norms of hierarchical seating arrangements. Rather, he used this occasion to teach the importance of humility. Some of Jesus’ most interesting miracles involved providing large groups with the opportunity to eat and drink together when there simply didn’t seem to be enough food. It should not surprise us that Jesus, knowing he was going to be betrayed by his disciples within hours, still chose to spend his last evening dining with them. He then gave us a precious gift of communion, which allows us to remember him. Breaking bread together is important.
We’ve read all the studies that tout the benefits of family dinners. Most of these focus on how important this interaction is for the development of children. However, I think we neglect to realize adults also need to commune and dine with others to keep our soul healthy. A shared Sunday meal could be a continuation of our church experience that is missing from our spiritual practices.
Unfortunately, I believe this is where northern Virginia pales in comparison to its rural, small-town counterparts. In an area in which busyness is currency, we simply don’t have time for such a weekly ritual. Travel soccer and swim meets dictate entire family schedules for weekends and holidays. In a transient community such as our own, state lines and even oceans split families so the common practice of meeting at Grandma’s house isn’t always an option. Our church has grown to a size in which even something as simple as a Sunday potluck after a service is no small feat, and it requires extensive planning and logistical efforts. For me, Sunday begins with a 5 a.m. alarm, and I usually don’t see my home again until 8 p.m. I get it. Sundays are hard.
However, I think we must make space in our calendar to dine with friends and family, so, how do we bring Sunday Supper back? Here are a few suggestions:
- Plan a meal after a service with members of your small group. If you aren’t a part of a small group, now is a great time to join!
- Join Dinner for Eight, or a similar program if your church offers such a thing. The dinners might not take place on Sunday, but it will still be a great experience to share a meal in someone’s home. If your church does not have this program, look into starting one.
- Ask if any parents in your child’s Sunday school group are interested in starting a Sunday lunch bunch.
- Offer to host a meal at your house after a service. (This is where a slow cooker or Instant Pot will come in handy)
- Plan a progressive meal with members of your neighborhood or apartment community on Sundays. This way you are only tasked with creating one dish.
- If you are part of a ministry team in your church, ask the leader or other members if they would be interested in dining out together after your service has ended.
- During meet and greet, invite your “pew neighbors” to grab food afterwards. Super awkward, right? Who cares! The worst they can say is, no. (Disclaimer: if you are single, you may want to present this as a group option. Otherwise, it might make someone uncomfortable.)
This fall, I’ve decided to put my money where my mouth is. Members of our music ministry team have lobbied for this exact occasion, so we are implementing “Second Sunday Supper.” If anyone would like to join us after the 5 p.m. service once a month, we’d love to get to know you! Feel free to contact me at the church or come see me after a service for more information.
I love food. But most importantly, I love sharing food with others. Maybe it’s the Southerner in me, but I think our stomach is an integral part of our faith journey. This fall, I hope you will find ways to incorporate this into your life. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, maybe we can make a carpool pilgrimage to Little Mexico someday for the best cheese dip of all time.