Two and a half years ago, we found ourselves starved for connection. Life with three young kids, staying involved in church, and navigating an unstable work landscape kept us busy. Conversations were constantly interrupted. Friendships were neglected. I (Jon) had just watched three quarters of my coworkers escorted out of office as the price of oil plummeted. Our future seemed murky. We were exhausted, lonely, and lost.
Aware that isolation would only make things worse, we began to seek connection with others. Exchanging niceties between church services wasn’t enough. We needed a place to work through the hard stuff. The stuff that was messy. The stuff that we certainly didn’t want to discuss in polite company. We recognized that there was a void in our lives, so we decided to fill it.
At the beginning of summer in 2015, we invited anyone and everyone to come to our house Sunday evenings for a potluck dinner. “Sunday Dinner,” we decided to call it. While kids ran wild in the backyard, adults gathered around the kitchen table, friends chatted on the patio. Loud, chaotic, unscripted… yet surprisingly wonderful.
What began as a time to catch up with friends soon became a weekly ritual. In addition to unloading whatever happened to be in our fridge at the end of the week, we also dumped our week’s burdens and problems on each other. There was no hidden agenda or religious aspect, but often our own spirituality and struggles became the topic of our conversations. We at last had a place to work through our questions and doubts concerning a spiritual life that was feeling more grayscale every day.
Now, it has become our safe place to wrestle with life’s difficult issues. At Sunday Dinner, our conversations usually start in the mundane or lighthearted: Sports, work, cars and kids. Often though, what happens around us sparks deeper conversations that touch on racism, homosexuality, evolution, parenting, infertility and pregnancy loss, immigration, theology and any (and every) other taboo subject. Sometimes we bust out a board game or pie eating contest. Or gather around the piano in an impromptu jam session. Other times, we’ll sit outside and listen to our friends’ struggles of racism or of coming out as a gay Christian until long past our bedtimes (not to mention our kids’ bedtimes!). Meanwhile, our list of attendees is constantly ebbing and flowing. Our friends lose jobs and move away, work and school often change schedules, but just the same we meet new neighbors and connect with newly invited friends. The one thing that has tied us together is the mutual respect we have for each other and the common bond that comes from sitting and eating at a table together.
What we’ve experienced is community, no doubt, and community is essential. It’s been said before that the one thing we all have in common is the physical need to eat. Our spiritual need is to be in communion with each other. Offering our home as a place to gather and eat has met both of those needs, and our need for connection is finally being met.
Jonathan and Denise live in Northwest Houston and are parishioners of St. Cuthbert ‘s Episcopal Church. They're learning daily how faith influences raising their three young children in an open and honest community.