Rev Andrew Smith, Presbytery Minister for Congregation Futures
The second habit of highly missional people in Michael Frost’s handy little book Surprise the World is: “I will eat with three people this week – at least one of whom is not a member of our church”.
This habit sounds illegal in these times of COVID-19 because our thinking until now about what it means to eat “with” people has just about always included sitting across a table from them as we eat, and being so close that we can smell their food. In these times we have to re-think what it means to be “with” people.
That re-thinking is happening across the Uniting Church, especially in the lead up to Good Friday and Easter, to answer the question: How can we share together in Holy Communion? The online zoom community of Saltbush has responded with the following invitation:
“Please join the Saltbush team and the Moderator of the NSW ACT Synod this Good Friday. As we recall the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ we will gather as Christian community for worship and communion. We ask that all who are attending from across the land bring for themselves a glass with wine/juice and a piece of bread so that we can share in this meal together.”
The idea is that in front of our screens in our own homes scattered across NSW/ACT (and perhaps further afield), we will eat and drink with each other as our Lord instructed. We are figuring out creative ways to eat and drink “with” each other over the internet for this central Christian meal of Holy Communion.
Frost would push us further to think beyond eating “with” members of our church. In his missional habits he urges us to also eat with people who are not members of our church. In reflecting on what the apostle Paul said about the manner of eating together in 1 Corinthians 11, Frost writes: “the weekly rhythm of the communal feast was meant to help shape the Corinthians into radical socialisers”. Radical socialisers who practise hospitality throughout the week, not just with Christian folk but also with unbelievers.
According to Frost, we are to be “radical socialisers” not just with Christian folk but also with unbelievers. This is challenging for us in these times of COVID-19. How can we be socialisers when we are meant to keep our social distance?
Across our Presbytery there is story after story of people taking radical steps to upskill themselves to become familiar with how to use all kinds of social networking applications on their computers, tablets, ipads and phones so that they can connect. This may not be such a radical step for the younger ones, but it is for people who had previously decided they were too old for all this. There are stories of people helping each other get set up with the right equipment and figure out how to connect to zoom. There is frustration and even embarrassment for people when it is not working, and sheer delight when after all the effort and perseverance we see and hear each other through our screens.
What we are encouraging each other to do here is the complete reverse of a recent advertising campaign by Meat and Livestock Australia about eating lamb. The campaign calls on tech-obsessed Australians to look up from their screens and reconnect in person with one another over delicious lamb. They are using lamb to bring people together. The ad shows crowds of over 500 gathering in public spaces to eat lamb! In one of the group shots of people tasting the delicious lamb there is the exclamation by a tech savvy young person: “it’s like a food photo you can eat”. You can view the ad here: https://www.mla.com.au/Marketing-beef-and-lamb/Domestic-marketing/Lamb-campaigns
In these times of COVID-19 it is not surprising that the ad is no longer being shown because we now must do the reverse. From connecting in person with one another we are becoming more tech-obsessed, spending more and more time on our screens to be able to socialise with each other, to worship together, to share in Holy Communion as we eat and drink “with” each other.
Let’s not stop at eating and drinking with members of our church. Let’s also find connections that open the way for us to eat and drink with people who are not members of our church. Our Lord Jesus came to this world eating and drinking (Luke 7:34). Let us follow in the pattern of our Lord in going to the world.
If you’d like to be in touch, here are my contact details – Rev Andrew Smith – firstname.lastname@example.org – 0437 011 338.