St. Lydia’s calls itself “a dinner church.”
Supported through ELCA Vision for Mission, this congregation under development in Brooklyn, N.Y., is made up of approximately 30 people from a variety of faith journeys and backgrounds who join each week to cook, eat and worship in each other’s company around what founder Emily Scott calls the congregation’s three pillars: working together, eating together and sharing their story.
“In New York, where people really don’t have large kitchens at all,” Emily says, “being able to cook with people and eat with people outside a restaurant is really kind of rare.”
The idea began when Emily had just moved to Brooklyn to take a job as a liturgist. A recent graduate of Yale Divinity School, Emily had spent a lot of time thinking about communion and Christian meal practices. But when she first moved to New York, she was spending most of her time thinking about something else: how to meet people.
“When I moved here, I didn’t have a real network of friends,” Emily shares. “I was literally saying ‘yes’ to any invitation that was extended to me.”
At parties and get-togethers, when people would ask Emily what she did for a living, there seemed to be a “spark” for many people when she said she worked in a church.
“We’d get into conversations, and some of them would say, ‘I’ve been thinking that I should be a part of a community, but I can’t figure out how to get my foot in the door,’” she says. “Others basically said, ‘That’s something that I want more of in my life.’”
That’s when she realized there was a hunger in the community that needed to be met. Four years later, St. Lydia’s is now meeting weekly at the Brooklyn Zen Center, where everyone who attends is given a nametag and asked if they’d like to help cook.
“It creates a sense of buy-in for people that they’re helping to make what we’re eating instead of taking a passive role,” she says. In addition, “it’s a little bit easier to get to know people when you’re doing something together.”
When they sit down to eat together, for some it’s a time of fellowship and community, but for others it’s a much-needed meal. “The idea is there’s enough for everyone,” says Emily. “Whoever comes to the table, we will feed. We will run to the corner and buy a can of soup if we need to. Everybody’s going to eat.”