What is the Dinner Church Movement?

The Dinner Church Movement is made up of churches across the world that share a eucharistic meal as their primary form of worship. The form of our worship services vary, but at their heart, each church embodies a commitment to prayerfully shared meals. This is a place to explore the practice of Dinner Church, a movement that returns to the first century communion practice of sharing a full meal as worship.

What is
"Dinner Church?"

Christians in the early church gathered together around a meal, telling the story of Jesus’ last supper, breaking bread, and sharing the cup. The earliest known instructions for this Eucharist (or “thanksgiving”) meal are found in the Didache, a second century document. Ritualized meals have been practiced by a variety of Christian denomination through the centuries. Moravian Christians celebrate a love feast, or Agape meal.

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In 2008, conspirators Rev. Emily M. D. Scott and Rachel Kroh founded St. Lydia’s Dinner Church, the first congregation to make a sacred meal their primary liturgical celebration. The pair were informed by Eucharistic meal liturgies practiced at Union Theological Seminary’s chapel, Yale Divinity School’s Marquand Chapel, and St. Gregory’s of Nyssa’s “Feast of Friends.” Scott’s internship at St. Gregory’s under The Rev. Donald Schell and The Rev. Daniel Simons was deeply influential in the liturgical style and principals employed at St. Lydia’s. The term “Dinner Church,” was coined by Kroh in 2008.

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St. Lydia’s received attention around the United States and became the model of a number of early Dinner Church experiments, including Simple Church in Grafton and Worcester, MA, Root and Branch in Chicago, IL, and Kindred in Houston, TX. Dinner Church has become an example for both established congregations wishing to explore a new liturgical practice and newer congregations who place the practice at the heart of their liturgical life. St. Lydia’s has been reported on in “Faith and Leadership,” “The Atlantic,” and “The Wall Street Journal.”

What makes Dinner Church different?

Dinner Church is practiced in various ways across the country. The practice is strongest when it’s adapted for your context, theological background, and cultural realities. We think Dinner Church is characterized by:

      • a meal that is explicitly sacramental in nature. The meal is a celebration of communion and is framed with a prayer marking the bread as Christ’s body and the cup and Christ’s blood.

      • a blurring of the boundaries between the “sacred” and the “profane.” By celebrating the Eucharist at an ordinary table with through an ordinary meal, we encounter Christ as present in all the ordinary places in our lives, not just those marked as “holy.”

      • a focus on participation. Congregants are invited to cook the meal, set the table, and clean up afterward, all as an integrated part of the liturgy. The meal is, quite literally, the work of the people.

Can I start a
Dinner Church?

Yes! Here are a few things to consider before you get started:

      • It’s a Practice, not Model. Rather than thinking of Dinner Church as a model, we encourage you to think of it as a practice to explore. Dinner Church will (and should!) look different depending your particular context. It’s not a program to import that will rescue your church! Rather, it’s a practice to embody that might help you see Christ in your neighbor 

      • It Thrives Through Diversity. Dinner Church can be practiced across a wide range of theological approaches, liturgical sensibilities, and musical genres. You are invited to create a Dinnen Church practice that belongs to *your* community!

      • It’s an Experiment. See what works. Try different ways of doing things. There’s no formula, and every community is different.

      • Keep Context in Mind. We’ve found that Dinner Church tends to connect with people most in settings where shared meals are rare. St. Lydia’s was founded in New York City, where most apartments are too small for a dining room table, and many people are far from family. Dinner Church became a powerful way to connect in a city that is anonymous and isolating.

      • Everyone Gets a Job. Try rethinking the way you structure participation. With a few key volunteers who sign up in advance, many roles can be left open for newcomers to fill. For example, at St. Lydia’s, a cook signed up in advance, and worship had a “soft start.” As congregants arrived, they were invited to help chop in the kitchen or set out silverware. These roles are handed out on the spot, so that everyone had a job to do, not just a group of insiders.

      • It’s Public, not Private. One pitfall of Dinner Church is that it can easily veer toward a group of friends having dinner, and away from a public service of worship in which the stranger is welcomed. To avoid this, explore ways to ensure the newcomer is always at the center of your gathering, and your “core” congregation is prepared to welcome the stranger. 

      • It’s for neighbors and strangers. Dinner Church can help us ask a question handed down to us by The Rev. Dr. James Forbes: “Who’s not at the table?” While Dinner Church can be an eye-opening practice for an established group, its true revolution takes place when we entertain angels unaware in the form of the stranger. As Rev. Scott preached at St. Lydia’s, “how can we make sure this table is always filled with all the wrong people?”

      • There will be enough. Dinner Church is a practice of hospitality. It forces us to remember that God has given us all we need. We do not need to count heads or take reservations. No matter who walks in the door, there will always be enough for everyone.