BBQ Church

Dr. John Vest prepares BBQ for the feast.
Dr. John Vest prepares BBQ for the feast.

By John Vest
Visiting Assistant Professor of Evangelism

I came to Richmond with a dream. One of the things that excited me the most about this new position—a partnership in evangelism between Union Presbyterian Seminary and the Presbytery of the James—is the opportunity to experiment with new forms of church and Christian community. My hope is that these experiments will serve as learning labs to supplement what I do in the classroom and in congregational consulting.

M.Div. student Thomas Wesley Moore plays banjo with  music leader Rev. Bobby Joe Small.
M.Div. student Thomas Wesley Moore, left, plays banjo with music leader Rev. Bobby Joe Small.

For years I have dreamed and experimented with a “dinner church” worship service I call BBQ Church. The idea is simple: gather people together in a casual atmosphere around a shared meal (with Communion) to talk about God’s presence in our lives and in the world. When a couple of students approached me about doing summer internships in the area of new worshipping communities, I seized the opportunity to give BBQ Church a try in RVA.

Seminary communications director Mike Frontiero and son Ian feast on chicken and pork BBQ.
Seminary communications director Mike Frontiero and son Ian feast on chicken and pork BBQ.

I’m working with three students, one recent graduate, and a member of the seminary staff to run a series of BBQ Church experiments over the course of the summer (in addition to some other evangelism and learning opportunities). Our first event happened in June, and while it was certainly rough around the edges and we identified many areas for improvement, I’d say it was a great success. Even though we only advertised the event for a week on Facebook and through flyers and personal invitations on the day of the event, about 100 people showed up and we had to add more tables and chairs. Sure, many of the participants were friends and colleagues, but many others were folks we had never met before, looking for a faith community or simply intrigued by what we were doing.

bbq church5

I’m looking forward to the rest of this summer experiment, and seeing where God leads us in the fall and beyond.

Save the date for the next BBQ Church:  Saturday, July 23, 6 p.m. at Forest Hill Presbyterian Church, 4401 Forest Hill Ave in Richmond, Virginia. For updates, follow The Joyful Feast on Facebook.

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