Pentecost -- Ordinary Time

Feasting for Justice:
A Post-Modern Celebration of Food, Community and Stewardship
Background Article


Introduction: 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. 


Feasting 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.”[1]


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.[2]  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.


As people 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.


People followed 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.


Devising Your Own Service

A sample service is included, but here are some pointers for creating your own:


The People

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.


The Space

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. 


The Food

Food 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 cups.


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 picnics. 


The Tables

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.


Liturgical Suggestions



Genesis 2:4b-9, 15

Deuteronomy 11:8-15

Psalm 104 (excerpts)

Isaiah 25:6-9

Mark 6:34-44

Acts 2:41-47



I Sing the Mighty Power of God (TNCH 12)

For the Beauty of the Earth (TNCH 28)

Come, O Thankful People, Come (TNCH 422)

For the Fruit of All Creation (TNCH 425)

Pray for the Wilderness (TNCH 557)

Thank You, God (TNCH 559)

Take My Gifts (TNCH 562)

We Cannot Own the Sunlit Sky (TNCH 563)

We are not our Own (TNCH 564)

Touch the Earth Lightly (TNCH 569)

Come to the Banquet (Sing! Prayer and Praise 8)

We Will Take What You Offer (Sing! Prayer and Praise 182)

We Share a Hunger (Sing! Prayer and Praise 170)


Information for Homily

The average distance in the United States food travels from farm to plate is 1500 miles


From 1992 to 1997 an average of more than 1 million acres of agricultural land was developed every year.  And the rate is increasing.


Productive agricultural land is a finite and irreplaceable resource

  • Benefits of agricultural land Provide wildlife a habitat
  • Flood control
  • Groundwater recharge
  • Generates more local tax revenues than it costs in services
  • Preserve open space and scenic views


Other Suggestions for this Service

  • Invite a speaker from a local agricultural organization
  • 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 gardens


Web Resources - Although primarily a site for New York State, 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 policies. - 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: Background Article 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. 



Petrini, Carlo.  Slow Food the Case for Taste.  Columbia University Press: New York.  2001  Page xvii


[2] For more information about the industrialization of food, refer to a book by Michael Pollan The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  The Penguin Press: New York.  2006


Rev. Susan A. Blain
Minister for Worship, Liturgy and Spiritual Formation
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44115