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Sunday Worship 31 July | Sacred Spaces: refectory

Updated: Mar 18

This was a cafe church style service, so we heard a shorter reflection, discussed what it means to be a good host, and made clay cups to remind us of the abundance of the wedding feast in the gospel reading.

John 2:1-12 (NIV)
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.

Today our focus is on ‘refectory: a place for hospitality’. The refectory is essentially the dining room of a monastery, where members of the community and their guests eat together, which is why I chose this morning for cafe church. Lings notes that this space fulfils a number of functions. "Physically, the refectory nourishes and warms. Socially, it is hospitable, through welcome, gathering and serving. At the personal level, in meeting there can be conversation, light or deep, listening in silence and getting to know people better.”

Members of the Northumbria Community connect refectory with home, and understand it as vital to deepening community and welcoming new members. This should tell us that hospitality is not an added extra, but central to the life of a community. But then I think we already know that. When we looked at Chapel I talked about how I was drawn to the church, and a large part of that was that the kitchen and the arrangement of tables and chairs told me straightaway that this is a place where people make time and space to eat and drink and talk together. Some may find it strange to bring Chapel and Refectory together like this, but it is worth remembering that the earliest churches met in domestic spaces, so there would have been no clear lines of separation for them either.

Lings' acknowledges that a number of people have criticised his model for the absence of Kitchen, as if food and drink magically appear in the Refectory without human assistance. Of course that is not the case, and Refectory can only be a place for hospitality because preparations are made elsewhere, and because service is offered by often unseen and underappreciated hands. Writing on the Rule of Benedict, Joan Chittester says "If we do not serve, we are at best a collection of people who live alone together”. I suggest then that we should not imagine or understand Refectory apart from Kitchen. Perhaps we might see it as a kind of open plan canteen, where all pitch in and eat together. That certainly seems representative of how Refectory manifests here.

Lings thus suggests that the Refectory is a bit like a Mars Bar in that it combines work (as a place where meals are prepared), rest (as a place where people sit to eat) and play (as a place where people tell jokes and stories). He also suggests that there is a balance to be held between generosity and moderation, and we might reflect too on the ethics of the food we prepare and share, thinking about things like environmental impact and fair trade. But Lings suggests that "in the end the matter is as much about the attitude of serving out of genuine humility and hospitality; the questions of quantity and quality derive from that. Then our refectories will nurture community, not merely fill stomachs."

There are lots of places we find Refectory in scripture, and it is clear from the gospel narratives that Jesus spent time as both a guest and a host. Lings reflects that we as the Western church are used to being hosts, but asks what might it mean for us to be guests? It is good to invite people here, but it is also good to accept invitations elsewhere. When I met with the council to talk about the wellbeing cafe, one of the things they asked was if I would consider creating pop up wellbeing cafes, which would be a great way to be welcomed into other spaces and meet people where they are. And being a guest does not just mean letting someone else pour the tea, but also being willing to learn new ways of thinking and doing and being. I am very confidently Baptist, but I have learnt a great deal from engaging with other theologies and practices. As Lings says, "instead of being those who spiritually have it all, we need to learn to be ready to receive, as well as offer, hospitality."


If you would like to reflect more deeply on the sacred spaces we are exploring this summer, you can find reflection questions in the file below.

Stoneygate Baptist Church teaching series Summer 2022
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