Today we are hosting our second Retiree Lunch with the Rector at Hickory Neck Episcopal Church. We kicked off this new event last month. I threw together the event rather quickly, and expected only 10-15 people to show. When RSVPs hit 60, I was floored – and ever so grateful for our Parish Life Committee who offered to make some more batches of chili, since my one or two Crock Pots would no longer suffice. The idea for the lunches came out of my annual review with our Personnel Committee. They were concerned about longtime and older parishioners feeling a sense of connectivity with me and with one another. No need for a program, worship service, or class; just some time for all of us to be together.
As I thought about the feedback initially, I was not entirely convinced. Surely gathering that many people was a lost opportunity for formation or enrichment. But the more I thought about the feedback, the more I could understand the feedback. One of the dangers of thinking Sunday worship is sufficient for connectivity is realizing how little personal relationship building happens. Sure, the liturgy and shared experience of reflecting on scripture and sharing the meal is a central part of shaping our identity. But the handshake, and the “Everything’s fine!” I get in the receiving line is hardly conducive to relationship building. Some times you need to just spend time together, and that is what our lunches are trying to do.
I am in the midst of reading Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last. He argues relationships are core to healthy systems. Setting visions, doing tasks, and sharing responsibility is great, but in order to get anything done, the members of the system need to be in relationship – to spend time together, simply getting to know each other. He uses the example of the shift in Congress that happened under Newt Gingrich. It used to be that Congress members lived in DC, played sports together, ate together, and got to know each other’s families, no matter party differences. But the shift that happened under Gingrich meant more of a focus on spending time back in the home districts for fundraising. Once the members weren’t spending time together, they gradually began to be more divided, rallying against “the enemy” – the members of the other party with whom they had little to no relationship. The absence of relationship led to the absence of collaboration, respect, and productivity – a pattern that continues today.
For some, Retirees with the Rector may feel like a simple lunch. For me, they feel like a dramatic statement about who and how we are going to be as a community. We are going to make time to be together – to talk to church members from other services whom we rarely, if ever, see. We are going to sit with parishioners who have very different political opinions from us and talk about the awesome apple pie someone made. We are going to share stories, build camaraderie, and reconnect with who we are. And hopefully we will find ways to take that model beyond our doors.
Who do you need to have lunch with today? What relationships need tending, conversations need to be had, and laughter needs to be shared? I suspect that that when we gather with others, with the sole intention of relating, we might find that God is working among us for transformation, reconciliation, and inspiration!