PASSAIC – First Passaic United Methodist Church is doing a new thing. They’re holding worship services over dinner. Putting a fresh spin on their worship, the congregation is breaking bread with the community on Thursdays, 6:30 p.m. at the church on Paulson Ave.
Started in January of 2018, the Dinner Church has been an immediate success and brought a cross-section of the community together in worship including people with no religious affiliation, families, pastors of other churches and believers from other faiths.
“I visited Dinner Church earlier this month and had never been to this church before. Everyone was friendly and not before long I felt like I belonged and fit right in. My favorite thing about Dinner Church is that we all got to contribute, listen to one another, and nobody feels sidelined,” said Eddie Kahler of his recent experience.
The Dinner Church is a ‘love feast’ held in the fellowship hall of the church. The evenings program is informal beginning with opening prayer and singing. There is Gospel readings and then discussions based on focused questions about the passages. Everyone is encouraged to participate in small groups and at the end the groups share their thoughts and ideas freely shared.
Although food dominates the table, the essence of the Dinner Church is not the food. As Pastor Brendon Galvin puts it, “The dinner guides the service and the service guides the dinner.”
First Passaic Dinner Church is committed to maintaining an atmosphere guided by four key values: simplicity, honesty, hospitality and respect.. People relish the opportunity to join in fellowship, are excited by the discussion and open dialogue and once motivated, return with friends.
A Facebook page and a MeetUp group keeps the community and congregation informed. A stack of invitation cards is strategically placed at the entrance of the dinner for visitors to spread the word.
The event is supported entirely by donations from members, a few local businesses and a tip jar. They usually have more food than they need and menus range from soup and pasta to steak and potatoes.
Galvin advises that churches starting such a program should identify a core team of five to ten members. He sees the pastoral role not as one of control, but of nurturing others so they respond to the Holy Spirit. He recommends churches should take the plunge when they believe the time is right, without trying to plan the perfect dinner.
“Don’t be discouraged if the first event is not perfect,” said Galvin. “Improvement is possible each time by remaining open-minded, flexible and inspired.” He warns that success and attendance may fluctuate for reasons beyond the program itself. “The team needs to discern when to stay the course and when to adjust.”
Dinner service is not new. As a love feast, it has origins in the early church and was first introduced into Methodism by John Wesley circa 1737.
Although Dinner Church at First Passaic UMC has a life of its own, independent of regular Sunday services, Galvin observed some “cross flow” where two or three visitors excited about the dinner services now attend Sunday service. Also, in small numbers, formerly inactive members have since become active as attendees of the Dinner Church.
First Passaic UMC is not new to innovative worship. They were founded as “Holy rascals” who worshipped in a local tap house about 175 years ago. The church again broke new ground when they hired the first woman theologian in the 1860s. Today, the church continues as multi-cultural, centered on Jesus and shaped by Methodist heritage to reveal the active presence of God.
For more about the Dinner Church and current schedules, visit their Facebook page at facebook.com/passaicdinner