Richmond’s Sunday Dinner
“If you want to contribute to the Common Good of your community, start with what’s
flourishing. The Common Good always involves flourish-
ing.” – Andy Crouch
What does it really mean to be a partner in downtown ministry? This has been one of the first questions to tackle in planning the missional work of St. Paul’s. So, in order to get know our neighbors, the Mis- sioner Committee has taken some time to locate our neighbors, visit the places where God is working among us, and pay special attention to the communities among us that are flouring.
One such place is the weekly gathering of the East End Fel- lowship (EEF). This new worship group is redefining what it means to gathered church by focusing first on their neighborhood presence. On our recent visit, to the Robin- son Community Center for East End Fellowship’s weekly service, we experienced this vibrant neighbor- hood flourishing in worship. That evening the service was an earthy, edgy, and unexpected experience — complete with dancers, violins, and an Advent rapper. But best of all, it all culminated with Sunday dinner. East End’s worship concludes
with a dismissal and an invitation to move chairs and tables. Every Sunday service ends with a whole meal. Medical students and artists, long time residents and the under- housed, parents and teenagers; all come together around a dish of pasta. That night people sat down, without searching for friends or associates. Instead most joined with whoever was closest and started to build community. All were welcome, and everyone shared.
This spontaneous relationship building is not just for EEF mem- bers. A contingent of the worship community is non-member “partners”, or those who make their primary home in other congrega- tions. One EEF partner noted that she feels she needs the deep roots of her older, traditional church life. However it is through visits to EEF that she discovered that, “you learn so much more about your neighbors by being in partnership with other people every Sunday… “
Yet, there are still other ways to building community east of 8th Street.
On any Sunday night you could opt to break bread with drummers and diners at Goree, on Main and 18th street in Shockoe bottom. Owner, Jabril, proudly tells me that he was pioneer in settling so far from his native Senegal. However, he confides, that he used to be a little lonely in downtown Richmond. So, Goree has turned into a de facto
community center for those drawn to West African arts. On Sunday evenings you can experience this place is creating community to fill that loneliness. The weekly jam ses- sion is open to all who walk in for a little musical fellowship. Jabril also opens his space to city churches and school groups for events, and
on Wednesday nights he shows movies and coaches anyone inter- ested in the Wolof language.
On these nights as the musicians start to take requests, the communal experience crosses the line from performance to partnership. There is a cultivated air of openness here among new visitors and familiar faces of all backgrounds, sitting for a drink of drink of bissap, and tak- ing in the beat.
Food and fellowship are no strangers to St. Paul’s. As inheri- tors of the Anglican tradition, we have deep roots in the theology of creating community while shar-
ing bread. St. Benedicts’ monastic rule instructed his community that “sharing meals together is essential to breaking down separation,” and the appropriate site of God’s new work “in nurturing the design of the life we seek.”
Always We Begin Again: A Contemporary Rephrasing of the Rule of St. Benedict (pp 55-56)
So in seeking community in downtown Richmond, we find fer- tile ground in making partners over breaking bread, and seeing the new flourishing of the kingdom of God over Sunday dinner.