In an effort to encourage faith and fellowship, two Napoleon churches are offering a new type of church service — a dinner church.
Christ United Methodist Church on Glenwood Avenue and St. Paul United Methodist Church on West Washington Street are beginning the services this month, offering those attending a free meal and fellowship, along with learning about Jesus.
Christ United Methodist Church Pastor Mary Kay explained the idea comes from a ministry movement in England called Fresh Expressions that focused on outreach in a variety of settings and ways. According to Fresh Expressions U.S., the initiative started in 2004 and has spread across the world, primarily focused on those who are not yet the part of any church.
“These are fresh expressions ... of church, new and fresh ways of doing church,” Kay said.
Rev. Jennifer Miller of St. Paul United Methodist Church added, according to her research, 30% of Americans work on Sunday mornings.
“They’re not able to join us in worship, so I wanted to offer something on a different day so people who might not able to come on Sunday can,” Miller said. “We’re also seeing, especially in the younger generations, they just don’t connect the same with God as some of the older generations, so we wanted to do something unique.
“But it’s not exactly unique because if we look back at the early Biblical times, this is what they were doing — they were doing dinner churches,” she continued. “They were experiencing fellowship together.”
St. Paul United Methodist Church will host its first dinner church this Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. and then hold it every other Wednesday.
“... Over the last year with COVID, everyone misses the fellowship so much, so we thought it would be a great way to bring people together in community and hopefully be a blessing to everyone,” Miller said. “It’s going to be a unique worship ... it will be an opportunity to meet other people who are Christians and people who aren’t really sure yet.”
Miller said they are planning an interactive service, with modern Christian music, a short devotional and then a discussion/question and answer portion.
“We wanted to give them an opportunity if they have any questions ... that way it will be more interactive, they can get to know each other a little better,” Miller said.
Christ United Methodist Church will host its dinner church service, called “The Table,” on the fourth Thursday of every month, starting Sept. 23, at 5:30 p.m.
The dinner will open with a prayer and opening song, followed by the meal. Once the meal is mostly finished, Kay will deliver a Bible story.
“It’s not going to be a big sermon,” Kay said, adding there will be a discussion part as well, followed by prayers and songs. “They can stay as long as they want.”
There will also be a children’s area available in the same location, with activities planned. Toward the end of the service, Christ United Methodist Church will open its food pantry, which does not have an income threshold.
Kay added she hopes the service will grow in the future.
Both services are open to anyone in the public, and Kay noted families are welcome as well as single individuals.
“We want to get to know people,” Kay said. “We want to build relationships, so it really is a way for us to meet new people and see old friends and be together as one.”
“We want to be able to feed people, show them how much we love them, we love this community and we want to be able to bless the community, not just with the food but with the opportunity to come together as a community,” Miller added.
No reservations are required for either service. Miller said individuals attending the dinner church at St. Paul can RSVP at 419-592-0661 or firstname.lastname@example.org, but it’s not necessary. Both Kay and Miller said if more meals are prepared than are needed, they can be second helpings or take-home meals. Miller added the church is connected with the Salvation Army and additional meals can be distributed there as well.
Both Miller and Kay added they had hoped to start the services last year, but delayed it due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Precautions will be taken at both services, with church volunteers wearing masks and gloves designated to serve the meals, face masks are welcome and social distancing can be observed in the locations.
“We are asking people to follow common sense if they are not feeling well or let us know if they test positive,” Miller said. “We’re doing our best to keep everyone safe from COVID while still giving them an opportunity to get together and meet with friends again and be out in the world.