This past Saturday, my friend and colleague Hardy Kim and I put on an East vs West BBQ throwdown as a fundraiser for our friends Kurt Esslinger and Hyeyoung Lee, who will be serving as PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer site coordinators in Korea. The fine people at Declan’s Irish Pub hosted us, providing space for our cooking and gathering.
All around, the event was a great success. It was a fun way to say goodbye to Kurt and Hyeyoung and send them off on their mission. We managed to raise a lot of money for their work. And the impromptu commissioning and laying on of hands on the sidewalk at the end of the night could not have been more perfect.
(I should reluctantly note, of course, that Hardy beat me this time, which ties us at one win each, with at least two more of these cook-offs to go. So far we’ve raised over $15,000 making BBQ.)
This event also confirmed for me that my BBQ church idea is a solid one. During the 8 hours I spent smoking beef brisket on the sidewalk patio outside of Declan’s, numerous people stopped by to ask what I was doing. How great it would have been to invite them to come back for a BBQ feast and communion service later that day. And the natural way that our party slipped into a prayer service was simply beautiful.
I also realized that this concept could get started without a building or an actual BBQ business, which has been my thinking thus far. All you really need is an establishment like Declan’s that is willing to host a BBQ church service on a Sunday afternoon or evening to make this work.
But I also have another idea. The next day, I took Sunday morning off from church and preached at our afternoon jazz service, which I hadn’t done since August. With the morning off, my family and I did what an increasingly large number of families do on Sunday morning. We had brunch at a local diner and enjoyed time together at a park, which was full of families doing the same. As I watched these families having fun on the playground and in the park, I wondered what it might look like to have a church service in this setting. What if a group of families decided to spend Sunday morning enjoying sacred time together in this way, playing and having fun, and incorporate into this a simple communion service that recognized the presence of God in all aspects of our lives? Would others be interested in such a thing? Would it create a dialogue about what church is or could be?
In my mind, this kind of playground church, along with BBQ church and tailgate communion, are ways to respond to the shifts in church participation happening in our post-Christendom world. If we accept the reality that many people are simply not going to come back to traditional Sunday church services, why not think about creative ways of meeting them where they are? Why not stretch our understandings of what church is and can be?
Beyond the ideas I’ve mentioned here, what are some other settings in which we could experiment with post-Christendom church?