“Give us this day our daily bread.” - Matthew 6:11 (NRSV)
Every Thursday for 25 years, First Congregational Church of Dubuque has served a free community meal that begins with a short blessing. But at a recent training from the local food bank, religious leaders were forbidden to pray out loud over meals made with USDA commodities.
So faith communities were asked to choose between praying at meals and receiving free food for those meals. Given the economic realities, some leaders chose the free food, and they now have a “moment of silence” instead of a prayer.
While I understood their position, this pastor chose prayer.
To be clear, I am a firm supporter of the separation of church and state. I do not expect to pray in a public school. I do not expect the federal government to fund my church. But I also do not expect them to tell me, as a pastor, that I cannot say a blessing over a community meal prepared by congregants in a building owned by a church.
Each week at the meal, I receive prayer requests for birthdays and anniversaries, for tornadoes in Oklahoma, for the sick, the addicted, and for veterans, including some who served their country and now sleep on our city streets.
If this were just about economics, the decision would be clear. But we believe that when you feed the hungry, you feed the soul. Asking us to serve our meal without a prayer feels as ridiculous as asking us to serve soup without a spoon.
So we keep praying at our meals. And now we’re praying for some new donations.
For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.
Lillian Daniel's new book Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don't Belong To: Spirituality without Stereotypes, Religion without Ranting is now available for purchase, but you can hear it all for free at 1st Congregational Church of Dubuque, Iowa.