Shepherd’s Table: The Old Made New Again

posted on October 22

Shepherd’s Table: The Old Made New Again

One of the most exciting new forms of ministry / church is “Dinner Church.” The name pretty much says it all. Congregants gather around the table to be fed in body, mind, and spirit. Many of our churches have used the dinner table to engage our existing congregations or to feed the homeless. Maggie Valley UMC decided to take it a step further. Here’s a condensed form of their story shared by Pastor Ann Duncan.

Almost 13 years ago, Associate Pastor Erma Bond started a ministry called “Shepherd’s Table.” The purpose was to feed people in the impoverished neighborhoods near their church. The serving method was simple. Hosts brought a plate of food to the table. Often folks would carry their dinner home. Those stayed, ate and left.

Meantime, several of the church leaders were exploring a new contemporary service to help increase the worship attendance each week. That’s when they heard about the Dinner Church model and attended an information and training session. They were sold! Why not transition their existing feeding ministry into Dinner Church?

The old Shepherd’s Table would be made new again! But what would that look like? The key would be to move the dinner from a transactional event (simply giving out food) to a relational event (focused more in hospitality and relationship building). Another change they made to serving the meals was to offer the hospitality of choice to their guests. A buffet line was set up and each person got to choose what was on their plate rather than being told what they would eat.

When people come in for dinner, they sit in a welcome area as dinner and tables are prepared. Dinner usually begins at 5:30 pm. Everyone files into the dining room and takes a seat at a table. After a few announcements are made, a blessing offered over the food, everyone goes to the buffet to get their meal. Many pick up dessert first. These homemade treats are highly coveted (ok, maybe not the best word for church but you know what we mean).

At the end of each meal Pastor Ann shares an interactive devotional message. Everyone is invited to stay for the message. Each table has a note of invitation to stay for the devotional message after dinner to avoid the implication of a “bait and switch” tactic used by some to offer a meal, then preach at you. Everyone stays. They share prayer requests. They engage in the devotional message through handouts and table decorations Everyone enjoys being fed spiritually before they head home.

The whole dinner service takes about an hour. Being a tourist destination, they engage about 100 people each week in summer and 30-50 regulars in the winter. Over the years they have developed good partners with providing food for the dinner. The average cost for a meal is about $150/night. It is completely self-funded. There is a donation box in the back, in another room, and people still find it to give what they can.

The coordinator for this extraordinary effort is Shirley Saxton that includes about 20 volunteers each week. To prepare to best meal, they often start at 10:30 am to be ready for dinner. During the summer they need to have two seating times to accommodate all the people they need to feed. The team is also committed to the long-term service and relationship with the homebound in the Maggie Valley community.

Everyone in our district is invited to visit and experience Dinner Church in Maggie Valley each Monday. If you are considering starting your own dinner church, call the church office and ask if you can volunteer one day at Shepherd’s Table. It will give you first hand experience being a part of a successful ministry.

by Wayner Dickert and Beth Brown

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