When was the last time you shared a meal with someone of a different generation, someone who is not a member of your family? At the Cathedral Church of St. Luke & St. Paul we are realizing that who we share meals with matters —whether that meal is shared at your dining room table or a booth at McDonald’s. Yet, the very form and structure of our lives often relegates intergenerational relationships to a nice bonus rather than consistent inter-dependence. The truth is, we need spaces for all generations to gather and depend on each other, and the world is less and less willing to provide that. So, in the summer of 2018 our parish began a new practice designed to create intergenerational space around dinner tables. We call it “Dinners for Nine.”
This is what Dinners for Nine looks like in practice: Parishioners register to either attend or host a Dinners for Nine group. We compile all the registrations, create groups no larger than nine (based on age and life-stage diversity), then we task the hosts with coordinating a time and location for their group to meet twice for dinner over the course of the next few months. Some groups opt for a potluck, others for a meal out, and some brave hosts take on the whole meal themselves! To make this more accessible for households with children, we also offer childcare reimbursement.
After several iterations of Dinners for Nine, we have seen bonds of community formed over meals extend out into everyday life. Gathering and sharing a meal is just one method our community has explored to foster intergenerational dependence. When my wife and I hosted a Dinners for Nine group in our small Charleston apartment, we enjoyed an abundance of food, fellowship, and life experience with older couples, college students, singles–both young and old, and parents of elementary school kids all gathered around the table. There is no space in my life, apart from Sunday morning worship, where I can gather with a group this diverse over a meal.
Now, you may be wondering, “Why nine?” Nine is a large enough group to feel full and small enough to be intimate. Just as importantly, part of intergenerational diversity always means creating space for the single, widowed, or solitary. We depend on every parishioner in every age and life-stage to make our parish what it is. So, we want to keep the groups odd numbered so nobody in the group feels odd.
We know that the Eucharist is the ultimate Table to gather around, the true meal for all generations. At the Cathedral, we desire for the unity we experience at that Table to take root in our lives every day, including Monday through Saturday. Our Dinners for Nine groups are making a way for us to live into that.
If our friend Saint Paul is correct, then we are individually members of one another in Christ. As a student ministry director, I long for students to be discipled at home and in the local church. Every generation needs to learn the slow, patient walk of dependence from those who have gone before. Perhaps we value independence more than we value living in dependence on one another. When I am recruiting leaders to walk with and disciple our students, the first places I look are our Dinners for Nine Groups. That’s where I find parishioners who, I trust, are answering “yes” to this haunting, intergenerational question:
“So, shall I plant sequoias
And revel in the soil
Of a crop I know
I’ll never live to reap?”
The Road, The Rocks, and The Weeds by John Mark McMillan
By Hunter Myers, Student Ministry Director
The Cathedral Church of St. Luke & St. Paul, Charleston
(Image by Davis Goulden)