With a poor play call and a fistfight, the football season ended last night. (Well, for those of us more interested in college football, the season ended on January 12.) This, combined with the blizzard that nixed any BBQ plans I might have had for the big game, reminded me of a blog post I meant to write back in the fall.
Last year in a DMin class one of my classmates brought up a communion service that an Episcopal church had done during the pre-game tailgating at an NFL game. She noted that it wasn’t very successful and wrote it off as gimmick. She called it an act of desperation.
Little did she know that my colleague Hardy Kim and I had done two of these ourselves. Our first “Tailgate Communion” was an experiment hindered by some cold and wet November weather. But we still drew a decent crowd and considered it a success. Our second attempt was even better, despite taking place before a preseason game with smaller crowds.
One of the reasons our service worked better than the service my classmate referenced is that we actually tailgated with the rest of the crowd before shifting into communion at an appointed time. The Episcopal group she described just set up a tent in the stadium parking lot and did what sounded like a regular worship service. I’m not surprised that people there for tailgating and football weren’t interested in that.
Looking back at our two tailgating communion experiments, I might concede that they were gimmicky. They stretched our community’s understanding of communion and prompted some helpful conversations about God’s presence in human culture, but they could be described as gimmicks meant to draw attention to our church.
But it doesn’t have to be a gimmick, and that is not why I didn’t want to do one this past season. In fact, I think something like this has the potential to be a meaningful expression of church in the world.
Among the people who stopped by our tailgating spread or came to communion, the number one comment from people who were not members of our church was this: “Are you going to do this every week?” They were looking for something consistent for their tailgating community. There are people who come every week. They park in the same spots and develop friendships with their neighbors. They have a true sense of community. Some of them probably thought that we were strangers invading their space, but many of them seemed genuinely intrigued by the notion of something religious happening there on Sunday morning.
But given our regular Sunday responsibilities, I knew that the best we could ever do is a once per season drop in. That would be a gimmick. But if we could be there at every home game tailgating and bearing witness to the gospel in word and sacrament, that would be a ministry. We could develop relationships and become a part of the community. But since that wasn’t possible, I didn’t want to do something that was less than what it could be and decided to file away the concept for some other time.