Several months of the year, my wife and I live in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. The outstanding geological reality of the city is its three rivers. Until they built a new one, the playing field for the local professional football team (known as “The Stillers” locally) was named for those waterways: Three Rivers Stadium. Most cities are built by a body of water, usually a river. London has the Thames. Paris has the Seine, Cairo has the Nile, and so on. The river is essential to the life of the city.
But with Pittsburgh, for what reason I’m not certain, its river(s) have individual names instead of a singular name. Why doesn’t one of its inflowing rivers provide the name for its outflowing river? The city could be known for being where the Monongahela River flows into the Allegheny before the latter continues to the Mississippi River. But no, two rivers flow into Pittsburgh; another river with another name, Ohio, flows on.
I think of Pittsburgh and its three rivers when I think of the Dinner Church Movement. Three different realities are involved and flow into one another. The Allegheny branch, or in the Dinner Church reality, the Academic stream comes from the work of Biblical scholars on, primarily, the role of Hellenistic meals.
In the first two centuries of the modern era, these meals played a major social role for the people around the Mediterranean. It would be like putting the fraternal organizations (Masons, Elks, Moose, Eagles, Odd Fellows, etc.) and the service clubs (Kiwanis, Lions, Rotary, etc.) all together into one single huge social movement. Can you imagine what the combined impact of those groups would have in shaping the lives of people? That’s the reality of the first DCM (Dinner Church Movement) flow.
The second ‘river’ is the DCM itself. Upstream, lots of individual tributaries of people gathering around tables. On the whole, they are unaware of how many other leaders are trying the same model in different variations in other places. It is the Monongahela of the DCM. Or, to continue the alliteration, it is the Ministries that many of you have developed. You have seen how meeting together to share a meal provides a ministry to people. In the preparing and eating of a meal, in the worship and singing and conversation, and in the sharing of faith, something magical and life-changing happens to people.
The results of the A stream and the M stream flow into the O stream: the Ohio River, the Organized Church. They give new ‘water’, new spirit to the Church.*
But, you know what? Currently (pun intended), none of the three is really aware of the other. The academics, on the whole, don’t know that their research work is reflected in new ministries; the DCM ministries are mostly unaware that their new model is very similar to the earliest model of church meetings in the first decades and centuries of the life of the followers of Jesus. And the Church is unaware of this new life-giving flow into its life, either in scholarship or in ministry.
It’s like two dams had been built upstream from Pittsburgh before the two rivers converged. If this had happened, the Ohio River would have suffered. It would have been much dryer.
So our mission, if we choose to take it, is to make the Church aware of the life giving quality that comes from combining the vital knowledge of how the church began at table in the First Century with the life-giving ministry that Dinner Church provides for Christians in this Twenty-first Century.
* Every analogy breaks down on at least one point. So does mine. Organized religion is not a single flow, nor has it ever been. Nor was it in its earliest days. Because of its first dinner churches developing in many different kinds of experiments in cities far from each other, there was much, much more diversity than we have previously imagined. So much so that one of the major academic voices of Christian origins, Hal Taussig, writes about ‘Christianities’ rather than ‘Christianity’.