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practice phase {reflections}: Sunday Supper Church

at the end of may, we concluded our practice phase of Sunday Supper Church. for five months, 25 of us journeyed together to practice creating a new type of church: a table-based, dinner environment that seeks to find the beauty, diversity, humanity and image of God in each other. 

we had a vision in our minds, but weren't sure exactly how it would play out, so we practiced creating a church together {!}.  we tested everything: the location, the food, the order of the gathering, the teams, the children's activities, the budget, EVERYTHING. and, WOW, what a journey it was! the vision in our minds came to light in the most beautiful, sacred, special way. we had church together on sunday nights around a table, and it worked!

of course, there's SO much more to say, but for now, a few initial reflections on my mind: 

everyone is spiritual. over the last few months, i've had a million conversations with folks outside of the Sunday Supper group who were curious to learn more about what we were doing. and, in almost every conversation, i noticed a spark and connection in people's eyes as they heard about our values: diversity, beauty, transparency, equality, Jesus-centered. i was both surprised and encouraged by this, that even as i continue to read articles about how the western church is in decline, faith and spirituality are ever increasing. 

new expressions of church are desperately needed. for many people, i noticed that the traditional, modern format churches weren't working in helping them grow in faith. many had expressed giving up on going to a building on sunday mornings because they had felt hurt, left out, oppressed, and overlooked in the past. and yet! they still wanted meaningful, loving friendships and genuine spiritual experiences. this was actually the most surprising thing to me! folks burned by church, but not by Jesus. {tweet that, baby!}. 

this is THE time for brave pastors and communities to evaluate their current ways of doing church, abandon things that are harming their congregations, and take bold risks in creating new expressions of church. there's never been a greater need, or a better time! many people i heard from (our group included), weren't convinced that church could be defined by gathering on sunday night, eating a beautiful meal, sharing communion in the kitchen, talking vulnerably about faith, doubt. oh! and also, there would be no 40 minute sermon from a stage with bright lights, no long worship sets, nor a passed offering plate. and yet! in our own new expression, we were church to each other. 

everyone has something to teach us about God. this is the core belief that SSC was built on, and as we practiced, it was a joy to see this prove absolutely true. when we gather around a {diverse} table, share our unique experience of God, and bravely listen to others' experiences, our faith is expanded as we see God in others. the highlights of this experience, for me, were when folks at my table shared how they experience, hear, see Jesus each day, and it was VASTLY different than my experiences. if we have eyes to see and open hearts to receive, the potential of our faith is limitless. 

everyone is desperate to be seen, named. a beautiful thing emerged during our practice phase--something we're calling "food share." we started making beautiful meals for not-for-profits in Chicago who are doing really hard, important, love-based work. we made lunch and served them at their staff meetings. each time, as we shared the food and said a few words about how important their work was and that our desire was for the food to remind them of this, i noticed a similar look in their eyes--as if it had been a very long time since they they had been seen or thanked.

and then, at the end of each of our Sunday Supper Church gatherings, we stand in a circle and name the ways we've seen Jesus in each other during that night. again--that look. each time, i'd look around the circle at friends and watch as they came to LIFE hearing how someone else had seen Jesus in them. again, again, again, reminded that every one of us share a common humanity, and that we must see and name the beauty in our humanity as often as possible. 

church should be enjoyable! this seems like a silly or petty reflection given the others, but i've been thinking a lot about just how fun and enjoyable gathering each month has been! for so long, church work has felt hard and burdensome, and i wasn't sure it could ever be different. the work of SSC is hard and tender, but also light, and fun, and really lovely. 

last week, a pastor friend said to me: Amy! do you know how lucky you are to be leading and creating a church that you'd actually attend if you weren't the pastor? oh RIGHT! even if i weren't leading SSC, i'd be cooking meals, setting the table, and participating in brave conversation around the table every single time the church gathered. and, i'll never take that for granted. 

so, we're taking this practice phase and moving forward. this summer, we're inviting our friends and family to experience what we've created {and, also so we can practice a few more things with/on them!}, and then in september, we'll open to the public. i seriously CAN not wait. xo, friends. 


God, our Mother


this Mother's Day, i'm practicing gratitude for the feminine, mother-side of God. feeling worn down by the chaos in our country, i'm looking toward God, my Mother, for comfort, care and guidance. 

God, our Mother 

she is wise, protective, unstoppable. 

she is caring, creative, gentle.

she collects her babies, holds them close, never lets them go. 

she anticipates needs, always one step ahead, ready to give her babies the best. 

she works hard to give them food, often sacrificing herself to provide. 

she is Mama Bear, on guard to fight the harm that comes to her babies. 

she is Auntie, lavishing gifts and attention so her babies know they are loved and special. 

she is Grandma, generously giving wisdom, guidance, unconditional love. 

Happy Mother's Day to us all --- on Sunday, give thanks to God for Her unconditional love for you. and, be sure to recognize the image of God displayed in the women all around you. 


the order {Sunday Supper Church}

guys. we're really doing it {!!} we're creating a table-based, dinner environment that looks something like a new kind of church experience. 

a lot of people ask me what a night at Sunday Supper Church actually looks like. this is a really great question --- it can be hard to picture exactly what goes down when we gather. most people assume it's a type of dinner party-small group experience in which we eat and chat. yes + more!

keep in mind: we're in month 4 of 5 in our practice phase. meaning: we're following a similar gathering order each time as we practice so that we can tweak and edit in hopes of a public launch.  

Sunday Supper Church /// Practice Phase 

5-5:20: Prepare

Guiding Value: Expect to Experience Jesus and Engage with Others

during this time, we put a beautiful plate of fruit and vegetables around a common gathering table, and encourage folks to chat. it's fun and lively, and feels like the start of a great dinner party. we also have a babysitter onsite who helps gather the kids into the playroom during this time. 

5:25-5:40: Gather 

Guiding Value: Jesus is Present + Alive in Each of Us 

the gather time is one of my most favorites. we stand in a circle in the kitchen area as the host welcomes and gives an overview of the night. then, the communion leader passes out the bread and juice as we are reminded that Jesus' presence is near, and that He is alive in each of us. the kids join us for this time, too, which is absolutely the BEST!

5:45-6:15: Eat 

Guiding Value: Jesus is Beauty, Abundance, Goodness for All 

after the gather time, the food leader presents dinner and we all ooohhh and ahhhh over the meal. we take our food to the tables (3 tables of 8 people) to eat and discuss the first guiding question. at each gathering, we have a guiding theme that centers our time together. last month, our theme was the divinity + humanity of Jesus. the first question we discussed at dinner: what is the image of Jesus to me? at Sunday Supper Church, we believe magic happens when we eat a beautiful meal together and share our unique perspectives of faith around a diverse table. 

6:15–6:45: Discover 

Guiding Value: Jesus is found as we learn from others, and share our unique perspectives

after dinner, we stay seated at the tables, and hear a 10-minute sermonette that gives common language for the group centered around the guiding theme. last month, i did the sermonette and spoke on Jesus showing us who God is --- love, joy, peace, fixes what's broken, heals, calls out hypocrisy, creates beauty, forgives, and participates in community, and, that Jesus as human shows us our potential --- to be all of these things. following the sermonette, we engage around the table in the second guiding question that builds off the sermonette. last month: what is broken in my humanity, and what is my potental to become like Jesus?

note: leading into the question, i encouraged the group to take a risk as they answered the second question at the table. to consider the table safe + sacred by saying something new + brave. 

 6:45-7:00 Celebrate

Guiding Value: We’ve seen God in each other, and declare His goodness

we end the night by gathering again as a group in the kitchen. we do a naming activity in which we say, "tonight, I saw Jesus in you when..." and then, we conclude with the cake benediction, in which we raise our dessert and declare a blessing over each other. i love, love, love this part, and not just because i love cake, but because it reminds us that in the midst of our pain + heavy-hearts, God is good and love and abundance and beauty for all. 

after we say the blessing, we play a fun song and dance a bit, kids included of course! and then we clean up while chatting, kissing babies and saying goodbye. 

the night FLIES by and i'm always sad when it's over. in my opinion, church should be enjoyable and inspiring, leaving you feeling a little less burdened and a little less alone in the world, and a place where you know you'll see Jesus and your friends. and for me, this is church. 


updates, Sunday Supper Church

so, hi. so much has happened since we last spoke. i'll do my best to catch you up {!!}

about a 1.5 years ago, while family pastoring at willow chicago, kelly and i started a Sunday Supper Group. i desperately wanted + needed a place to proces + talk about my job and life — a place to be vulnerable, and safe, and deepen friendships, and experience the beauty of Jesus found in each other. so, we created Sunday Suppers — based on all of this. for 12 weeks, we invited a group of 9 to join us at our apartment for dinner. every single sunday night. i’d take care of dinner, and the only requirement was to share our lives vulnerably with each other. 

we had no long-term plans for the group, just to eat together every sunday, sharing our real lives in real time. every week, over every meal, a real, true, love-filled friendship happened. it's hard to describe -- but, magical, is usually the word i like best! God was present and gave us a special gift in being together. after the 12 weeks were over, we determined to not stop meeting together, but instead continued on, monthly, even now. we’ve celebrated birthdays, marked days of loss, celebrated new jobs, a new baby, a new apartment, and loads of heartbreak. 

and it occurred to me somewhere along the way, that this was church. a small group of people, eating together, committed to each other's success, and to encouraging the Jesus-image found in each one. the group not limited to one teacher/pastor/perspective, but a more full picture of God seen and experienced around a shared table. 

so i began to explore if this--life around the table--could be a new + needed expression of church. 

at the same time, i noticed that many of my friends were having difficulty connecting at the traditional churches they'd been part of in the past. most expressed frustration that due to their gender, race, ethnicity, political beliefs, and sexuality, they didn't feel they could be open about their lives, and still able to participate as members and leaders. and yet, they wanted church, they wanted a spiritual experience where they could connect with God and bless others. 

my love for my friends, and my frustration that they couldn't find their place at church fueled me. in winter, 2016, i entered into a season of discernment. i researched, networked, prayed, listened and asked a lot of questions. i wanted to be confident that this was God's movement.

during this season, i continued to hear from friends who expressed their desire for a place to contribute and grow in faith, but had felt left out, wounded, confused by churches, and i grew more convinced that the sunday night dinner table could be a family table for all --- 

also in this discernment time -- i found that the dinner church is actually having a moment {!!} there’s a beautiful community in brooklyn called St. Lydia’s that we visited on a sunday night, and it was so warm and wonderful. seeing what had only been imagined in our minds was powerful! St. Lydia's pastor Emily has only been kind and helpful to me in this process. in chicago, Root and Branch meets in homes for dinner, and the pastor Neil has encouraged and guided me. also, in this time of discernment, i found Avis, who has become my mentor and priest. 

the discernment season led to a centered confidence that Sunday Supper Church was where God was moving. in january, we launched a 5 month practice phase. we're currently meeting monthly with a group of 25 adults + kids to simply practice. we're practicing the specific order and elements of the gathering {warm bread communion, table discussions over dinner, a 10-minute sermonette, more table discussions, and a cupcake benediction!}, and we're practicing to see if the location is right {currently in a beautiful loft space in downtown chicago}, and the playroom is good for kids, and the number seated at each table is right, and the food being vegetarian is good, and on and on. the great thing is that we're creating church together, so we're learning and leading as a group. 

the magic of church around the table is that we're able to give and receive mutually. last sunday, our guiding theme was "all made to reflect God's image." over dinner, we discussed how our image of God had been formed. as the people around my table shared, i realized how limited my perspective of God is. MINE! i'm a pastor, who thinks about the nature of God ALL DAY LONG. but, sitting at the table with 7 diverse people, who bravely shared their perspectives, expanded my view -- and then, this whole week, i'm thinking -- how can i think of God as female like rosario does? the magic of the table creates space for this, for everyone to be both pastor and member. 

we're hoping for a full launch in late summer/early fall, 2017. we'll have room for 50, which is possibly the largest this church will be for a good while. if you live in Chicago, and need a table like this, we'd love for you to join us. email {} or text {847-754-5157}. i'll be posting on instagram and using hashtag #sundaysupperchurch, if you'd like to follow along.

final word. i'm not crazy enough to believe that a sunday night supper church experience is THE entire future of the church. i hope it's a part of the future, but not the full picture. what i do believe is that our current forms of church aren't working, for a lot of people, and the sooner we can get to the hard work of creating a million new variations and expressions, the better. this is what we're doing. i hope you do what is in front of you --- 

much love, friends, wherever your journey of church takes you today. xo, Amy

{photos by Jennifer Kathryn}


bins for books {holiday campaign}

I'm proud to be a Board Member for Pathways to Global Literacy, an amazing non-profit working to promote literacy through establishing & supporting libraries in developing countries. 

This year, we're launching our first holiday campaign: Bins of Books! For a $200 donation, we'll ship an entire bin of books to one of our libraries in the Dominican Republic. Each bin holds 80 books, and helps empower young women and children with knowledge, giving them confidence and skills they can take into their communities. Pathways to Global Literacy has been working for years with teams of committed librarians to promote libraries as more than just "rooms holding books," but spaces for information sharing, community gathering, and skills training.

Your gift this holiday is a direct way to contribute to this exciting work, and to share a love of reading with young women and children around the world. 

Checks can be made to: "Pathways to Global Literacy,” and mailed to 1517 W Richmond St, Arlington Heights, IL 60004. Please mark "bins of books" in the memo.

And, of course, any amount is helpful. 

Thank you, thank you! Happy holidays!