Pentecost -- Ordinary Time
Feasting for Justice:
A Post-Modern Celebration
of Food, Community and Stewardship
Our Community Extends Beyond Our Table
So much of
Jesus’ time, during his ministry, was spent eating! In the First Century, eating together was
more than simply finding nourishment.
Table fellowship had symbolic value.
Breaking bread together implied a social connection to each other. When Jesus broke through social boundaries
and sat at table with religious leaders and pariahs, rich and poor, people of
the covenant and foreigners, he was pointing the way to a reconciled society of
justice and peace.
The Church follows Jesus to the table in
one of its central practices, Communion.
No one celebrates Communion alone.
It is a ritual act of agape
layered with meaning. On one level the
ritual shapes the community that gathers around it to remember their Host and
to experience Christ’s presence. On
another level it celebrates the abundance of God’s creation and reminds
partakers that no one should suffer from scarcity. On yet another level it may help to heal the
divisions within a community. When we
sit at the table we see those who eat with us.
for Justice is not designed
as a formal Service of Holy Communion, although some congregations may want to
adapt it to include Communion. Instead,
it focuses us on the relationships of the folks at table with the folks who
produce the food that is shared there. This service reminds us that food is not
only part of God’s bounty, but it is grown and harvested by people whose labors
we may be only remotely aware of. It
draws on the growing social concern for stewardship of the earth, most
particularly, the movement for sustainable agriculture. Implicitly,
it connects worshipers’ food with
their local economy. It also draws on an
international movement known as “Slow Food,” which began in the 1980s in Italy to
recover the pleasure of eating:
“Slow Food… means giving
the act of nourishing oneself the importance it deserves, learning to take
pleasure in the diversity of recipes and flavors, recognizing the variety of
places where food is produced and the people who produce it, and respecting the
rhythm of the seasons and of human gatherings.”
Along with its
emphasis on pleasure in eating, “Slow Food” has a social justice
underpinning. It has developed as a
reaction to food designed to be eaten hurriedly and standardized for industrial
production, which diminishes the quality of the food. The movement embraces local agriculture and local
food producers, thus supporting the local economy.
This service of
worship ties all these threads together by raising some questions, engaging all
the senses, and feeding people’s hunger with food created from local sources.
A Sketch of the Original Feasting for Justice Service
“I followed the smell of sausages
cooking into the chapel!” Testimony of a surprised participant
Feasting for Justice was originally celebrated at Union
Theological Seminary in New York City
during October, the height of the Autumn harvest. Aspects of that service are recounted here to
assist you in creating a similar service.
Union’s worship space, James Memorial Chapel,
has no pews. For this service, clusters
of chairs were grouped at the perimeter to face an open central space. In the central space were small tables
holding locally obtained food: cheese, sausages,
apple cider, and bread. One small table
had a laptop computer with an Internet connection. A portable butane stove for cooking was on another
small table. At one end of the worship
space was a projection screen.
entered the worship space they smelled Italian sausages cooking. The call to worship, the readings, prayers, and the hymns were projected on the screen
to eliminate the need for printed worship material.
the service from the projection screen.
After the opening prayers and
song, the congregation heard a short homily about sustainable agriculture
accompanied by PowerPoint® slides with bullet points and pictures to underscore
the stewardship aspect of food as well as showing pictures of the food
sources. Following the homily the
congregation was invited to sample the foods and to mingle with each other. People could use this time to check the web
for information about sustainable agriculture.
Music called them back to their seats where the service was concluded
with a litany, a hymn, and a benediction.
The congregation was invited to remain to finish the food. As people left the worship, they picked up an
apple to take with them.
Your Own Service
service is included, but here are some pointers for creating your own:
This service is a
“foodie’s” dream! Include in the
planning people who love food: people
who grow it, people who cook it, and people who savor it. Use them to set up the worship space, prepare
the food, present the food, and clean up.
Find a place where
people can freely move about where they can interact with each other.
A sanctuary with fixed pews may not be the appropriate
space. This is a service to build and strengthen the
community. Food is the social
lubricant. Consider using the fellowship
hall rather than the sanctuary. The
actual worship liturgy could bookend a church supper or a church picnic. If
weather permits, conduct the service outdoors.
should be locally obtained and should be in season. The food procured should be within a
comfortable drive of the worship site. (Note: Except for the bread, which was
purchased near the seminary, the food used for this service came from a 50-mile
radius of the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts,
where the worship designer resides). If members of the congregation grow
fruits or vegetables, they may be able to provide some food from their gardens. Most importantly, food should be fresh and at
its peak. Consider selecting foods that
will provide an interplay of tastes, textures and scents.
Unless this is a
church supper or picnic, providing finger food is probably the simplest for
serving and eating. Utensils make
consuming the food cumbersome. Small
plates, toothpicks or tongs may be necessary. If serving a beverage, use small
If the space
permits and equipment such as an electric skillet or a portable stove is
available, stimulate the congregation’s sense of smell by cooking some food! Barbecue grills could be used for church
Set the tables
with beauty. Awaken the senses. Bright table cloths, cut flowers or greenery,
food arranged abundantly, generously: remember
that our first “taste” of food is visual!
Simplicity: A “Green” Service
Ideally, try to
eliminate the need for worship bulletins and hymnals. Done indoors where bright light may not be a
problem, the “bulletin” could be written in a presentation program such as
PowerPoint®. If done as part of a church
supper or a picnic, consider using paper placemats to hold the text.
In some instances
where multi-media is not available or the service is not part of a community
meal, consider writing liturgy that is easy to remember, such as a litany where
people respond with the same short, simple phrase each time. Alternatively, invite people to lift up
prayers extemporaneously. Hymns may
unavoidably have to be printed on paper, which people can fold and carry in
their pockets until called upon to sing.
Sing the Mighty Power of God (TNCH 12)
the Beauty of the Earth (TNCH 28)
O Thankful People, Come (TNCH 422)
the Fruit of All Creation (TNCH 425)
for the Wilderness (TNCH 557)
You, God (TNCH 559)
My Gifts (TNCH 562)
Cannot Own the Sunlit Sky (TNCH 563)
are not our Own (TNCH 564)
the Earth Lightly (TNCH 569)
to the Banquet (Sing! Prayer and Praise
Will Take What You Offer (Sing! Prayer
and Praise 182)
Share a Hunger (Sing! Prayer and Praise
Information for Homily
average distance in the United
States food travels from farm to plate is
1992 to 1997 an average of more than 1 million acres of agricultural land was
developed every year. And the rate is
agricultural land is a finite and irreplaceable resource
of agricultural land Provide
wildlife a habitat
more local tax revenues than it costs in services
open space and scenic views
Other Suggestions for this Service
- Invite a speaker from a local
- Use this service as a way to
introduce the idea of procuring food for church meals from local farms and
other local food producers
- If this service is done during the
height of the growing season, invite those who have excess produce from
their gardens to share them with those in the congregation who have no
- Although primarily a site for New
it is currently under development to include 25 markets around the
country. It has considerable information
on sustainable food production, including seafood.
- Has information about farmland conservation.
Its resources include reports on a variety of issues facing agriculture
and updates on legislative actions at the federal and state levels.
- “The National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture is a diverse
nationwide partnership of individuals and organizations cultivating grass roots
efforts to engage in policy development processes that result in food and
agricultural systems and rural communities that are healthy, environmentally
sound, profitable, humane and just.” It links
to partners around the country and provides information on legislation and
- This website primarily includes consumer information about sustainable
agriculture. It has a recipe section.
- Locates farmers’ markets in your
state. Includes information on starting
a farmers market through the Federal Market Promotion Program to expand
domestic farmers markets.
- Although primarily a site for California,
it contains extensive resources on sustainable agriculture. It has links to several websites for more
information serving a wider geographic region.
Feasting for Justice:
was written by the Rev. Mr. Quentin Chin,
member of United Church of Christ in Lenox,
Lenox, MA, who is currently serving as Interim
Minister at the United Methodist Church of Lenox, MA.
Copyright 2007 Local Church Ministries,
Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team, United Church of Christ, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland,
OH 44115-1100. Permission granted to reproduce or adapt this
material for use in services of worship or church education. All publishing rights reserved.
Carlo. Slow Food the Case for Taste
Press: New York. 2001 Page
 For more
information about the industrialization of food, refer to a book by Michael
Pollan The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The Penguin Press: New York.