St. Lydia’s is a dinner church. It is an exercise in radical hospitality and a place where I find community here in New York City, a city both inhumane and all too human. St. Lydia’s is grounded in the Christian story of life, death, and resurrection. It is a community that welcomes each stranger as guest – a guest who is quickly embraced as fellow friend, as part of the community. We offer a meal, comfort, and community to each other, as it was and has been offered to us. And more are coming to share in the meal and to share their stories, to share in the story. All are welcome.
Religious community is difficult for me, even spending most of my life in it. Like many aspects of Christianity, it is a paradox, and paradoxes are inherently problematic. Church makes me anxious for many reasons that I’ll not mention. But St. Lydia’s is the rare place where my anxiety turns to solace, if only for a little while. Creating St. Lydia’s with others gets me out of myself and creates a new place where I rest a part of myself and find new strength and understanding.
At St. Lydia’s, we gather to create a simple, vegetarian meal. We intentionally gather the ingredients and we participate to create dinner, to set the table in preparation of fellowship. When we first gather, a shruti box is squeezed. There is a song of call and response. Candles are passed out and lit. The room is soft in light and echoes in simple verses. We go to the spread tables and place there the candles and spread into a circle, where our pastor, Emily Scott, palms raised up, sings words repeated since ancient texts and made new for our age. Then she takes fresh, warm, fragrant bread, blesses it, and breaks it. “Holy food for holy people. Share in the meal,” she commands in invitation.
And around the circle, we break bread for each other, sharing it and saying “this is my body.” Then we sit down and enjoy dinner in fellowship. We have done this for five years. And we have had various tables and kitchens. First, in tiny apartments. Then, in a Lutheran church. Now, in a zen center.
But it is time for our a place of our own. And we are moving into a small storefront in Gowanus, Brooklyn. We are creating our own kitchen. We are listening to the community in which we are building. We want to serve it and its people. We work for justice and peace. This begins in the vulnerability of invitation and acceptance of time spent together. Come join us.
St. Lydia’s is working together to prepare our own space to make many meals, to welcome many strangers as friends, to do the work of Jesus. And we need your help to prepare the space. This costs money, because many things in the world cost money. We are raising $30,000 in our Indiegogo campaign, which lasts for three more days. We are almost there. If you would like to support St. Lydia’s monetarily, we would greatly appreciate it. We also would love for you to come eat and work with us in our new space, that we move into next month.
Jesus fed people. Then people talked about him. They said he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” And, we do. Often, going to St. Lydia’s, for me, is like a meal remembering a good friend, a friend you miss. One visitor said to me appreciatively, “it’s like a wake.” Yes, it can be. And that’s why I like it. It’s not always, though. It’s not mournful. But it is reflective. In every meal, there is a pause. You catch yourself here. You realize things aren’t what they could be. Or what they are.
We serve dinner to each other, to create fellowship with each other. We listen and share our lives with those around us at table. Simple acts, but profound ones that reveal the purpose of why we’re here. Creating community in eating, we then hear a sermon, share our experiences in light of it, share a song and a time of silence and prayer. A poem is recited. We fill our cups with a splash or two of grape juice, and Emily sings with the shruti box again, preparing us to go out into the world again. We respond in song and drink our cups. And then we clean up together. We gather for a final song, share words of peace to each other, and go back out into the world. The taste of dinner still on our tongues and the stories we shared still in our ears. And we are changed. We strangers a little less strange, with new bonds formed, the world a little less stranger.
This is all done with each other, created together. The focus is on making something together, not believing a certain way. We believe that a meal can be prepared and eaten and that fellowship can be created. That is our starting point. That fellowship is influenced by the fellowship of Jesus. From that fellowship we work for justice and understanding. Part of that fellowship is a coworking space. Another part is social activism. Another is the theology circle I lead. Another is the contemplative prayer group. There are many kinds of fellowship.
The Greek word is philoxenia, a word meaning “the love of the stranger,” but that’s not as easy as that. Xenia is a dialectical word. There cannot have a stranger without a host. You cannot have the unfamiliar without the familiar. They rely upon each other for their own identity. And in community, at St. Lydia’s the stranger and host become tangled up in one another, in each other’s definitions. I am the stranger. You are the stranger. Let us eat together in fellowship. The world is bleak. Eat with us. Let us hope together for something less bleak. Let us work together for something less bleak. Let us start with this meal. Share in the meal.