The Spirituality of Sweet Tea
From “dinners on the grounds” to Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers, food, community and conversations have always been part of our Church life. The rich noise of children running around the parish hall and vivid conversations between parishioners of different sorts still can be heard in many of our Churches across the world. In many places, however, this community life centered around food and conversation is dying, often substituted by an innovative “consumer Gospel”, which produces short term growth, but in the long run has increasingly contributed to empty houses of worship.
Sadly, I do not belong to the slow sweet tea generation. Raised in a middle class apartment, I did not have the possibility of playing with neighbors on the street and hearing my mother's call to come inside for dinner. To be true, I barely knew my neighbors' names. Only in the Summer, when I would spend some free time at my grandparents' cottage, did I have the opportunity to enjoy the slow life of the good old times”: playing with their pet (a dog named Perigoso - “Dangerous” in English – who was anything but dangerous), helping my grandfather harvest fresh vegetables, playing with the neighbors' kids, jumping in trees and getting dirty. And, at the end of the afternoon, we would always drink refreshments and chat for a while in front of their house. The neighbors were always invited to join the conversation, after all, everybody was part of a “big family”.
That's how Churches are supposed to be: a big family. However, the “community” aspect of church life is emphasized in our “modern” world less and less. Many search committees now expect priests to be much more like business administrators who are able to celebrate a quick liturgy rather than spiritual leaders called by God to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, with a schedule filled with committee meetings, there is little time for visiting the sick, talking on the phone with parishioners or even enjoying a cup of coffee or a glass of sweet tea at the end of the afternoon.
Parishioners also have less and less time for Church affairs. Sunday school is rarely heard of in some places. Coffee and refreshments, usually served after the main service of the day, are taken “to go” as people run to their cars, ready to drive to the nearest restaurant. There is little time for weekday activities, including longtime parish programs and traditions, which risk being extinguished within a couple of generations.
It is necessary to reclaim the “spirituality of sweet tea” in our world: the long talks, the hugs, the common meals and warm conversations. Yes, the world has changed, and the Church inevitably has to adapt to a fast-paced society. However, the essence of Christian community life cannot change. Some regard it as early Christians' most impressible aspect and wherever it still persists, the Church is strong and active.
Maybe it is time, then, to use community life as a tool for church growth and evangelism. Younger generations, often so technologically savvy, lack the “people” aspect of daily life. If the Church will provide a warm and welcoming environment, where all are known and cherished by their brothers and sisters in Christ, it surely will be able to reach the unchurched. Our Episcopal/Anglican identity provides a solid and traditional liturgy, complemented with a comprehensive and inclusive theology. When allied with intentional Christian community, which naturally flows from our liturgy centered around the Eucharist, Christ is made truly present among us and a conduit is created that enables people to find wholeness in God in Christ.
The full essay is online at his blog: The Spirituality of Sweet Tea