First, the Seminar link:

Then a listing of the Members of the Seminar

Steering Committee

Ellen Aitken (McGill University, Montreal)
Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus (Wheaton College)
Matthias Klinghardt (Technische Universitaet, Dresden, Germany)
Susan Marks (New College, Florida)
Andrew McGowan (Trinity College, University of Melbourne)
Dennis E. Smith (Phillips Theological Seminary)
Angela Standhartinger (University of Marburg, Germany)
Hal Taussig (Union Theological Seminary)

Other Members
Richard Ascough (Queens Theological College, Kingston, Ontario)
David Balch (Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary)
Willi Braun (University of Alberta)
Kathleen Corley (University of Wisconsin)
Carly Daniel-Hughes (Concordia University, Montreal)
Arthur Dewey (Xavier University)
Nancy Evans (Wheaton College)
Jennifer Glancy (University of Richmond)
Philip Harland (York University, Toronto)
Lillian Larsen (University of Redlands)
Jae Won Lee (McCormick Theological Seminary)
Carolyn Osiek (Brite Divinity School, TCU)
Jordan Rosenblum (University of Wisconsin at Madison)
Janet Walton (Union Theological Seminary) 

My comments: The first thing that strikes me about the list is its international character. It matches, with one exception, the location of countries of Dinner Church sites on my map. The second thing is the high proportion of Canadians who are on the list in terms of the population of Canada. The third is the absence of any British scholars.  The D C map includes a number of British sites including the most vigorous site in Northern Ireland

Bibliography of the people on the list appropriate to the topic of meals, The description of books is from the publishers as found on Amazon’s website.

Ellen Aitken

The Bible in the Public Square: Reading the Signs of the Times, Ellen Aitken, Ed,  2008

Though the Bible has long enjoyed a place of privilege in the American public square, much of the contemporary discussion centers on the influence of the religious right in national politics and on the principled ‘separation of church and state.’ How might other perspectives on the Bible help us to ‘read the signs of the times’ and move beyond the status quo? In The Bible in the Public Square, renowned biblical interpreters reflect on how biblically informed engagement with political issues, ancient as well as modern, is reshaping the face of contemporary biblical scholarship and challenging the civil religion. This insightful exploration bridges conventional gaps between university, seminary, church, and civic life.

The contributors include: Norman Gottwald, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Barbara Rossing, Allen Callahan, Obery Hendricks, Antoinette Wire, Sze-Kar Wan, and many more.

Matthias Klinghardt

Gemeinschaftsmahl und Mahlgemeinschaft: Soziologie und Liturgie fruhchristlicher Mahlfeiern (Texte und Arbeiten zum neutestamentlichen Zeitalter) 1996

This book, along with Dennis E Smith’s “From Symposium to Eucharist”, broke open the idea that the form of early Christian gatherings were patterned after Greco-Roman Meals. It is strange, then, that it has not been translated into English. It is likely that the high price for this kind of book is probably why no one has ventured a translation.

Andrew McGowan

Ascetic Eucharists: Food and Drink in Early Christian Ritual Meals (Oxford Early Christian Studies (Hardcover)) 1st Edition 1999

The early Eucharist has usually been seen as sacramental eating of token bread and wine in careful or even slavish imitation of Jesus and his earliest disciples. In fact, the evidence suggests great diversity in conduct, including the use of foods, in the first few hundred years. This study describes and discusses these practices fully for the first time, and provides important new insights into the liturgical and social history of early Christianity.

Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective Ancient Christian Worship – 2014

This introduction to the origins of Christian worship illuminates the importance of ancient liturgical patterns for contemporary Christian practice. Andrew McGowan takes a fresh approach to understanding how Christians came to worship in the distinctive forms still familiar today. Deftly and expertly processing the bewildering complexity of the ancient sources into lucid, fluent exposition, he sets aside common misperceptions to explore the roots of Christian ritual practices–including the Eucharist, baptism, communal prayer, preaching, Scripture reading, and music–in their earliest recoverable settings.

Ancient and Modern: Anglican Essays on the Bible, the Church and the World Paperback – May 20, 2015

What can we learn from an ancient Church for a modern world? This book explores our most pressing challenges, drawing on the resources of ancient Christianity. It demonstrates how the Bible, and ancient authors such as Augustine and Athanasius, speak to contemporary issues of environment and restorative justice, racism and education.

Dennis E. Smith

From Symposium to Eucharist: The Banquet in the Early Christian World by Dennis E. Smith (Author) 2003 originally 1991, I believe

(Strange. There is no blurb for this in the Amazon listing. It is strange because this is one of two key books on meals.)

Many Tables: Eucharist in the New Testament and Liturgy Today by Dennis E. Smith (1990-05-01) by Dennis E. Smith;Hal Taussig (Author)

Meals in the Early Christian World: Social Formation, Experimentation, and Conflict at the Table by Dennis E. Smith (Author), H. Taussig (Editor) 2012

This book provides three categories of investigation: 1) The Typology and Context of the Greco-Roman Banquet, 2) Who Was at the Greco-Roman Banquets, and 3) The Culture of Reclining. Together these studies establish festive meals as an essential lens into social formation in the Greco-Roman world.

Hal Taussig

Many Tables: Eucharist in the New Testament and Liturgy Today by Dennis E. Smith (1990-05-01) by Dennis E. Smith;Hal Taussig (Author)

In the Beginning Was the Meal: Social Experimentation and Early Christian Identity by Hal Taussig  (Author) – 2009

What were the origins of the Eucharist? Taussig, a founding member of the SBL Seminar on Meals in the Greco-Roman World, brings a wealth of scholarship to bear on the question of Christian origins. He shows that in the Augustan age, common meals became the sites of dramatic experimentation and innovation regarding social roles and relationships, challenging expectations regarding gender, class, and status. Rich comparative material and rigorous ritual analysis reveal that it was in just such a swirl of experimentation that the early Christian assemblies, with their “love feasts” and “supper of the Lord,” were born. This cutting-edge monograph sheds new light on the social context of early Christian gatherings, illuminating the origins of the Eucharist and of Christianity itself. Taussig draws important implications for the practice of Christian community today.

Meals in the Early Christian World: Social Formation, Experimentation, and Conflict at the Table by Dennis E. Smith (Author), H. Taussig (Editor) 2012

This book provides three categories of investigation: 1) The Typology and Context of the Greco-Roman Banquet, 2) Who Was at the Greco-Roman Banquets, and 3) The Culture of Reclining. Together these studies establish festive meals as an essential lens into social formation in the Greco-Roman world.

Richard Ascough

What Are They Saying About the Formation of Pauline Churches? by Richard S. Ascough  1998

The early church was made up of a myriad of local churches, each with different settings, problems and ideas regarding how its community should be structured. What Are They Saying About the Formation of Pauline Churches? surveys the different models available in the Greco-Roman period for understanding how Paul’s Christian groups ordered their communities. There are four models: the synagogue, the philosophical school, the ancient mystery cult and the voluntary association. Dr. Ascough devotes a chapter to each model and to the authors who use it to understand Pauline churches. The archaeological and literary data are coordinated with data from the Pauline letters to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the models for understanding these churches. In the end, all four models are helpful and no one model is adequate to explain all the aspects of each Pauline church.

Paul’s Macedonian Associations: The Social Context of Philippians and 1 Thessalonians by Richard Ascough 2003

Richard Ascough uses Greco-Roman associations as a comparative model for understanding early Christian community organization, with specific attention to Paul’s Macedonian Christian communities. Contents include: Introduction, Types and functions of associations, Membership and its requirements, Community organization, The Philippian Christian Community, The Thessalonian Christian Community, Jewish Communities in Macedonia, and Bibliography.

Lydia: Paul’s Cosmopolitan Hostess (Paul’s Social Network: Brothers and Sisters in Faith) by Richard S. Ascough  (Author), Bruce J. Malina STD (Editor 2009

Human beings are embedded in a set of social relations. A social network is one way of conceiving that set of relations in terms of a number of persons connected to one another by varying degrees of relatedness. In the early Jesus-group documents featuring Paul and coworkers, it takes little effort to envision the apostle’s collection of friends and friends of friends that is the Pauline network. The persons who constituted that network are the focus of this set of brief books. For Christians of the Western tradition, these persons are significant ancestors in faith. While each of them is worth knowing by themselves, it is largely because of their standing within that web of social relations woven about and around Paul that they are of lasting interest. Through this series we hope to come to know those persons in ways befitting their first-century Mediterranean culture.

Women played a prominent role in the development of the early Jesus communities and formed an essential part of Paul’s social network. Lydia was one such woman. Her heart was opened to Paul’s message, she responded with faith by being baptized, and she offered her home in hospitality to Paul and his companions. But beyond this not much is known of her. In Lydia: Paul’s Cosmopolitan Hostess, Richard S.Ascough constructs an image of Lydia based on what is known about the political, commercial, social, and religious norms of the first-century world. Ascough describes the styles of possible dwellings in which Lydia could have lived, the business opportunities that would have been available to her, and the religious cults that held sway in Philippi at the time. With Ascough, readers will find that the importance of Lydia’s story is that she hears the message of God through Paul and responds with faith.

Associations in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook   by Richard S. Ascough  (Author), Philip A. Harland  (Author), John S. Kloppenborg (Author) 2012

Associations in the Greco-Roman World provides students and scholars with a clear and readable resource for greater understanding of the social, cultural, and religious life across the ancient Mediterranean. The authors provide new translations of inscriptions and papyri from hundreds of associations, alongside descriptions of more than two dozen archaeological remains of building sites. Complemented by a substantial annotated bibliography and accompanying images, this sourcebook fills many gaps and allows for future exploration in studies of the Greco-Roman religious world, particularly the nature of Judean and Christian groups at that time.

1 and 2 Thessalonians: Encountering the Christ Group at Thessalonike by Richard S. Ascough 2014

1 Thessalonians provides a fascinating glimpse into the origins and social life of the Christ group in the ancient Roman city of Thessalonike, while 2 Thessalonians reveals how the community developed at a somewhat later time. This Guide narrates the story of the founding of the group by considering the social and cultural contexts, the literary form, the rhetorical strategies, the theologies, and the reception of the two canonical letters. Using the most up-to-date scholarly work on critical matters of interpretation, the book is a readable and engaging encounter with one of the earliest Christ groups.
While centering on the texts of 1 and 2 Thessalonians themselves, Ascough draws widely on literary and archaeological data, giving particular attention to typical group behaviours among small, unofficial associations in the Greek and Roman period. The first four chapters focus on 1 Thessalonians, from the initial formation of the Christ group out of a small association of artisans through to how members negotiated various sorts of relationships: with Paul and his companions, with outsiders in Thessalonike and beyond, and especially with fellow believers within the group itself. The final two chapters turn attention to the shifting circumstances that required a second letter to be written, with its focus on disorder and disruption of social practices and theological beliefs. The epilogue briefly surveys Christianity at Thessalonike beyond the first century.
This Guide presents an overview of the historical development of the Christ group at Thessalonike. Moving beyond treating the canonical letters as simple repositories of theological opinions, Ascough demonstrates how 1 and 2 Thessalonians reveal ordinary life in ancient Roman cities. In so doing, he invites readers to enter the world of one of the many fascinating communities of Christ believers in the first century of the Common Era.

David Balch

Families in the New Testament World: Households and House Churches  by Carolyn A. Osiek, David L. Balch 1997

What was the family like for the first Christians? Informed by archaeological work and illustrated by figures, this work is a remarkable window into the past, one that both informs and illuminates our current condition.

The Family, Culture, and Religion series offers informed and responsible analyses of the state of the American family from a religious perspective and provides practical assistance for the family’s revitalization.

Roman Domestic Art and Early House Churches by David L Balch 2008

In contrast to most studies of earliest Christianity that focus on texts, David Balch inquires into the visual world of the culture in which early Christians lived and worshipped. Jews and Christians outside Israel lived in Greek and Roman houses and apartment buildings. During earlier Republican and later Imperial periods, artists painted frescoes on the walls of their patrons’ houses. Beginning in the mid-1700s, archaeologists began unearthing brilliantly colored domestic paintings, often of Greek (rarely of Roman) myths and tragedies, especially in Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Rome. The author inquires how visual representations seen daily might influence the understanding of Jewish and Christian scriptures read and heard in those same spaces as well as the meaning of rituals performed in domestic worship. Scenes from the tragedies of Euripides as well as visual representations of contemporary gladiatorial games make suffering, sacrifice, and death surprisingly present in Roman houses, themes not first introduced by Christian preaching or the Eucharist.

Willi Braun

Feasting and Social Rhetoric in Luke 14 by Willi Braun  1995

In this original and thought-provoking study, Willi Braun draws both on social and literary evidence regarding the Greco-Roman elite banquet scene and on ancient prescribed methods of rhetorical composition to argue that the Pharisaic dinner episode in Luke 14 is a skillfully crafted rhetorical unit in which Jesus presents an argument for Luke’s vision of a Christian society. His analysis underscores the way in which gospel writers manipulated the inherited Jesus traditions for the purposes of ideological and social formation of Christian communities.

Kathleen Corley

Women & the Historical Jesus: Feminist Myths of Christian Origins by Kathleen E. Corley 2002

For decades scholars have argued that Jesus’ teaching fostered inclusive communities and the full participation of women. Now Kathleen Corley challenges the assumption that Jesus himself fought patriarchal limitations on women. Rather the analysis of his authentic teaching suggests that while Jesus critiques class and slave/free distinctions in his culture, his critique did not extend to unequal gender distinctions. The presence of women among his disciples, she says, is explained on the basis of the presence of women among many Greco-Roman religions and philosophical groups, including the Judaism of Jesus’ own day.

Maranatha: Women’s Funerary Rituals and Christian Origins Hardcover by Kathleen E. Corley – 2010

Kathleen Corley continues her examination of women’s roles at the beginnings of Christianity with this groundbreaking new study of women’s funerary rituals and lament customs in the ancient Roman world. She finds in these rituals important connections with Gospel accounts of women’s visits to the tomb of Jesus and of his resurrection “on the third day.” Examining texts, catacomb art, and inscriptions, she articulates a new and exciting role for women mourners at the heart of Christian origins.

Carly Daniel-Hughes

Dressing Judeans and Christians in Antiquity by Kristi Upson-Saia, Carly Daniel-Hughes 2014

The past two decades have witnessed a proliferation of scholarship on dress in the ancient world. These recent studies have established the extent to which Greece and Rome were vestimentary cultures, and they have demonstrated the critical role dress played in communicating individuals’ identities, status, and authority. Despite this emerging interest in ancient dress, little work has been done to understand religious aspects and uses of dress. This volume aims to fill this gap by examining a diverse range of religious sources, including literature, art, performance, coinage, economic markets, and memories. Employing theoretical frames from a range of disciplines, contributors to the volume demonstrate how dress developed as a topos within Judean and Christian rhetoric, symbolism, and performance from the first century BCE to the fifth century CE. Specifically, they demonstrate how religious meanings were entangled with other social logics, revealing the many layers of meaning attached to ancient dress, as well as the extent to which dress was implicated in numerous domains of ancient religious life.

Philip Harland

Associations, Synagogues, and Congregations: Claiming a Place in Ancient Mediterranean Society, by Philip Harland 2003

Ephesus, Galatia, Troas, and Pergamum are familiar names to readers of the New Testament. But what made this region such fertile ground for early synagogues and congregations of those who followed Christ? How did the earliest churches and synagogues organize themselves? How did other voluntary associations operate within the Roman empire? How did such organizations relate to the constraints of imperial religion? These are some of the questions that Philip Harland addresses in this stimulating look at first-century Roman Asia. He surveys the various forms of guilds and associations in the eastern Roman empire. Asia Minor is one of the primary regions of Paul’s journeys described in Acts, and it provided the context for several New Testament books, especially the Pastoral Epistles, 1 Peter, and Revelation. The author’s fresh look at ancient inscriptions reveals new insights about the formation, operation, and functions of congregations and synagogues within the larger framework of voluntary associations in the Roman world.

Dynamics of Identity in the World of the Early Christians by Philip A. Harland  2009

This study sheds new light on identity formation and maintenance in the world of the early Christians by drawing on neglected archaeological and epigraphic evidence concerning associations and immigrant groups and by incorporating insights from the social sciences. The study’s unique contribution relates, in part, to its interdisciplinary character, standing at the intersection of Christian Origins, Jewish Studies, Classical Studies, and the Social Sciences. It also breaks new ground in its thoroughly comparative framework, giving the Greek and Roman evidence its due, not as mere background but as an integral factor in understanding dynamics of identity among early Christians. This makes the work particularly well suited as a text for courses that aim to understand early Christian groups and literature, including the New Testament, in relation to their Greek, Roman, and Judean contexts.

Inscriptions pertaining to associations provide a new angle of vision on the ways in which members in Christian congregations and Jewish synagogues experienced belonging and expressed their identities within the Greco-Roman world. The many other groups of immigrants throughout the cities of the empire provide a particularly appropriate framework for understanding both synagogues of Judeans and groups of Jesus-followers as minority cultural groups in these same contexts. Moreover, there were both shared means of expressing identity (including fictive familial metaphors) and peculiarities in the case of both Jews and Christians as minority cultural groups, who (like other “foreigners”) were sometimes characterized as dangerous, alien “anti-associations”. By paying close attention to dynamics of identity and belonging within associations and cultural minority groups, we can gain new insights into Pauline, Johannine, and other early Christian communities.

Associations in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook by Richard S. Ascough, Philip A. Harland, John S. Kloppenborg 2012

Associations in the Greco-Roman World provides students and scholars with a clear and readable resource for greater understanding of the social, cultural, and religious life across the ancient Mediterranean. The authors provide new translations of inscriptions and papyri from hundreds of associations, alongside descriptions of more than two dozen archaeological remains of building sites. Complemented by a substantial annotated bibliography and accompanying images, this sourcebook fills many gaps and allows for future exploration in studies of the Greco-Roman religious world, particularly the nature of Judean and Christian groups at that time.

Jae Won Lee

Paul and the Politics of Difference: A Contextual Study of the Jewish-Gentile Difference in Galatians and Romans by Jae Won Lee 2014

(Though Ms. Lee is listed as part of the meal seminar, her book is about the empire setting. So there is some cross-fertilization.)

Paul lies at the core of the constant debate about the opposition between Christianity and Judaism in biblical interpretation and public discourse as well. The so-called new perspective on Paul has not offered a significant break from the formidable paradigm of Christian universalism vs. Jewish particularism in Pauline scholarship. This book seeks to liberate Paul from the Western logic of identity and its dominant understanding of difference, which tend to identify Pauline Christianity as its ally.

Drawing attention to the currency of discourses on difference in contemporary theories as well as in biblical studies, the author critically examines the hermeneutical relevance of a contextual and relational understanding of difference and applies it to interpret the dynamics of Jew-Gentile difference reflected particularly in meal practices (Galatians 2:1-21 and Romans 14:1–15:13) of early Christian communities.

This book argues that by deconstructing the hierarchy of social relations underlying the Jew-Gentile difference in different community situations, Paul promotes a politics of difference, which affirms a preferential option for the socially “weak,” that is, solidarity with the weak. Paul’s politics of difference is invoked as a liberative potential for the vision of egalitarian justice in the face of contemporary globalism’s proliferation of differences.

Carolyn Osiek

Families in the New Testament World: Households and House Churches  by Carolyn A. Osiek, David L. Balch 1997

What was the family like for the first Christians? Informed by archaeological work and illustrated by figures, this work is a remarkable window into the past, one that both informs and illuminates our current condition.

The Family, Culture, and Religion series offers informed and responsible analyses of the state of the American family from a religious perspective and provides practical assistance for the family’s revitalization.

Jordan Rosenblum

Food and Identity in Early Rabbinic Judaism by Jordan D. Rosenblum 2010

Food often defines societies and even civilizations. Through particular commensality restrictions, groups form distinct identities: those with whom ‘we’ eat (‘us’) and those with whom ‘we’ cannot eat (‘them’). This identity is enacted daily, turning the biological need to eat into a culturally significant activity. In this book, Jordan D. Rosenblum explores how food regulations and practices helped to construct the identity of early rabbinic Judaism. Bringing together the scholarship of rabbinics with that of food studies, this volume first examines the historical reality of food production and consumption in Roman-era Palestine. It then explores how early rabbinic food regulations created a distinct Jewish, male, and rabbinic identity. Rosenblum’s work demonstrates how rabbinic food practices constructed an edible identity.

A Book: “The Foods and Feasts of Jesus”


I ran across something out of the ordinary from what I usually post. This won’t interest all of you, but there are some, like the folks at Simple Church (Zach and Kendall), who might like to incorporate it into their work. Others of you might like incorporating an authentic meal or two, with their recipes, into some celebrations during your Church Year events. I remember a church I served where the youth group invited the church to their meeting the Sunday after Easter to recall the Emmaus Supper from the day’s lectionary reading.


From Amazon:

The New Testament is filled with stories of Jesus eating with people—from extravagant wedding banquets to simple meals of loaves and fishes. The Food and Feasts of Jesus offers a new perspective on life in biblical times by taking readers inside these meals. Food production and distribution impacted all aspects of ancient life, including the teachings of Jesus. From elaborate holiday feasts to a simple farmer’s lunch, the book explores the significance of various meals, discusses key ingredients, places food within the socioeconomic conditions of the time, and offers accessible recipes for readers to make their own tastes of the first century. Ideal for individual reading or group study, this book opens a window into the tumultuous world of the first century and invites readers to smell, touch, and taste the era’s food.


Everyone knows that Jesus fed thousands with just a few fish and loaves, but what did people of the first century eat on an everyday basis? According to Neel and Pugh, the ancient Middle Eastern diet has much in common with the region’s contemporary foods despite 2,000 years of changing tastes and technological innovations. Jewish dietary proscriptions may have limited consumption of some foods, but the presence in Jerusalem of Roman occupation forces and other gentiles would have meant some diversity at table. The authors inventory available grains, fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish. Holidays of the era, most tied to the cycle of planting and harvesting, had their own specific traditions for feasts. For those who want to recreate a seder, the authors offer a sample Passover meal and its ritual prayers in both Hebrew and English. Recipes enable anyone to recreate entire meals that Jesus might well have enjoyed. (Booklist)

Neel, an Episcopal priest, and Pugh, a CPA, are both serious experts on ancient foodways. This enjoyable and tasty book is an insightful culinary study of Jesus’s time and the role played by the preparation of food and its consumption. Their book allows the reader to ‘study, taste, and experience the culture of the first century Holy Land.’ The 50-plus recipes included permit the reader to incorporate these delicious and healthy foods into their own meals and celebrations. The authors see food as a gift from God and believe that in its preparation and consumption we create community. The authors not only present the recipes but also explore the significance of food in biblical times from everyday repasts to the specific meanings of food choices at rituals such as wedding feasts, religious gatherings, and Shabbat. The recipes feature the fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, olive oil, and fresh spices that were used at the time and will enable readers to experience this important aspect of biblical studies. VERDICT This book is ideal for anyone looking for different and inspiring recipes as well as an excellent introduction to life in the first-century Holy Land. Highly recommended. (Library Journal)

The Earliest Church Gatherings: I Voluntary Associations 


Or: “How to find meaning when your world has collapsed and the Empire has taken over.”

by the Rev. Bud Tillinghast    This is the initial article on the historical and Biblical background of the Dinner Church. (first draft)

You’ve seen them so many times that your eyes may not catch it. It is a sign posted near when you enter almost any town in the U S. It’s probably just before the city limit sign that announces the name of the town its population, and its elevation. I remember my home town of Sebastopol, California. The city limit sign gave the town name, Sebastopol, the population, in those days, was 3,601 and the elevation was 81 feet.

But the sign I’m referring to was just before it, made of wood stained dark. And on it were recorded all the town’s clubs and service organizations, Masons, Odd Fellows, Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, and the like, with their locations and meeting times. Some towns, in a similar way list the churches to be found there.

We take for granted these voluntary organizations and non-profits, the many more that are part of our social structure landscape: Red Cross, A. A., S.P.C.A., the Grange, Portuguese Holy Ghost Society…. There are hundreds, no, thousands of them. But we take them for granted because they have always been there.

On the other hand, I remember my brother reporting back in the midst of spending several years in post-USSR in Novosibirsk, Siberia. Stan is a physician and was seconded by the Kaiser Health system, for which he worked, to help the Russian health system make the transition from the Communist to the post-Communist world. One of the realities he encountered was discovering that, other than the Communist Party, with all its substructures, there were simply no voluntary organizations in the country. So when the Party collapsed, the people were left with no social net of protection, no free hospitals to care for you, no Odd Fellows lodge to help with funeral expenses, no A. A. to help the despairing turn from alcohol, few churches because they had been suppressed under an atheist government. He discovered that his medical colleagues in Russia had a salary the equivalent of $100. per month. That is, when they were paid, which wasn’t a certain thing.

All that supportive network that we take for granted just wasn’t there.

Go back 2500 years and you find a situation very similar in the Mediterranean world. There had been a similar collapse, but it was the opposite from that experienced in the USSR. The Soviet Empire had provided the social, economic, and cultural web for people. Now they had to figure out how to survive, how to raise their families, without that web.

For those in the ancient world the movement had been in the opposite direction. After millennia of living in what had been the default social structures, they had to face the realities of living in an empire. From Burton Mack’s “The Lost Gospel”:

“The Greco-Roman age also brought to an end the civilizations of the ancient near east that had been in place for three millennia or more. The social system basic to these cultures was what we now call the temple-state, a model that had been honed to perfection and replicated over and over again, whether in a more stable elaboration such as Egypt enjoyed, or as the more vulnerable near eastern kingdom.

The temple-state centered, defined, and maintained the society’s myths, rituals, codes of recognition, patterns of thought and behavior, social hierarchies, national boundaries, system of education, round of festivals, social ethics, laws, and the meaning of a people’s labor, production, and exchange. In the wake of Alexander, temple-states crumbled and the social structure supporting these cultures was destroyed.” (page 65)

So we have an interesting parallel in two opposing situations. In the case of Russia, they had to deal with the collapse of an empire and its structures that had provided the social glue. In the case of the Mediterranean world, we have a collapse of social structure because of the new situation of the imposition of empire and the collapse of the social structures that had served humans for several millennia.

What happened to provide the new glue for our Mediterranean ancestors? Evidently, there weren’t too many options available. My knowledge is too limited to know what these other options were. My research has made me aware only of what they turned to.

Present in the Hellenic world (ancient Greece) which preceded the Hellenistic world (post- Alexander the Great) was a social structure, but its use was limited to the elite, the wealthy, and the educated. Anyone who has read Plato’s “The Symposium” has encountered that structure. But because we encountered The Symposium in our college philosophy class, we know more about what was said than we do about what was done in the social context in which the conversation took place.

So while you are reminiscing about those days long ago when you mused about the good, the true, and the beautiful, let me break in to describe a bit of that social setting. For that is what was adapted to fill the social/cultural void caused by first the Greek and then the Roman empires.

With the gift of adaptability that has served the human race so well, over years of time, the social meeting which as first used by the elite of society became the means by which the ordinary person was able to find a replacement for the social system that had been destroyed by the empires.

What did that social structure look like? Though it was used by all kinds of people (as I will show in the next blog posting) there was a common pattern which included two features. It began with a leisurely meal, during which the attendees reclined on couches. It was followed by what was called, from Plato’s days, the symposium. This latter took different forms. It could be informal with simply drinking and conversation. It could be a scholarly discussion led by a teacher. Again, more in the next blog.

This social structure is referred to with different terms. Some current scholars call it a voluntary association; others use the term the Greco-Roman Meal. You could call it a ‘supper club’ or a banquet. But within its two-fold pattern, people struggling to find meaning in a new day- while trying to hold on to some old traditions- were able to make sense of their lives.

More relevant for our day, this is posited by Biblical scholars as the earliest form of meeting and worship for the earliest followers of Jesus. For those who say that the earliest Christian gatherings were influenced by the synagogue I have a question for you. How do you know what the first century synagogue looked like? You are in for a surprise- the first century Jews borrowed the same Greco-Roman meal/symposium pattern that was used by Jesus’ followers. (See: “Meals in Early Judaism: Social Formation at the Table” by Marks)

For further reading:
“Voluntary associations in the Graeco-Roman world” John Kloppenborg
“Associations in the Greco-Roman World” Richard Ascough

Note: To receive notification of subsequent postings, you will need to go to the Facebook “Dinner Church Movement” page and click the ‘like’ button.

069c5e_52a87f7ff4714cf082623e2f2ecf290f-mv2What is the name of your site?

New Wine

Where are you located?

Here in Hartford, Connecticut, I am launching New Wine Dinner Church on Thursday, Oct. 26. I am so excited to be apart of this movement.

Who is a good contact person?

Rev. Michelle Hughes 860-761-7107

What are your web links including home page, Facebook page, blog site, etc. if you have them?

Do you have a denominational or local church sponsor?

I am UCC Clergy, but I am launching this as an independent venture right now

Do you have a particular demographic you are trying to reach?

Primarily 40-60+

How is your approach particularly different?

Since I am employed full-time, we will offer quarterly dinner gatherings, a bi-monthly pod-cast, and ministerial services to those with no church affiliation

In what ways are you trying to be the same or different from a typical congregation?

Location will not be in a church but in an innovative community space
We will not meet weekly, or on Sundays
Attire: informal
We will offer communion, and have a sermon

If you were to describe your important or unique characteristics, what would they be?

Our aim is to use this dinner church model while incorporating elements of African American culture

What or who has influenced/inspired your scheme? Any particular congregation, person, or book?

I am part of the UUA Entrepreneurial Ministry course, and this is my ministry project

Is there anything distinct about your meal?

Our meals will be simple: salad, and something that can be a one-pot meal
We will serve wine

Postings on Dinner Church Movement page

Dinner Church photo

If you came to our Dinner Church Movement late, you may not have the time or patience to go back over the last 11 months to see what has been posted. So let me give you, in effect, the Table of Contents.

I have listed them in three categories: 1. the Dinner Church sites, 2. the postings I have made, and, 3. articles that have seemed relevant to dinner churches. I have begun with the latest postings and worked my way back to October of last year. That means you can scroll through the ‘table of contents’ and when you find a posting you are particularly interested in, simply go back to the article by going back to the date it was posted on the Dinner Church Movement Facebook page.

I’ve just discovered that there are glitches to accessing my blog posts and I’ll be working to sort that out


  1. Dinner Church Sites      Location and date posted
      1. “Servant’s Table” Tulsa OK  8/31
      2. “After Hours” Denver CO     7/25
      3. “Cafe Church” Melbourne Aus  7/22
      4. “Pub Church”  Boston MA     7/20
      5. “Sacred Suppers”      7/18
      6. Reposting of “Simple Church”  6/21
      7. Kendall’s posting     6/13
      8. Dinner Church at University Lutheran, Philadelphia PA 4/26
      9. 3rd St Dinner Church Frenchtown NJ  4/20
      10. Wesley Foundation Boulder CO    4/7
      11. Lake Washington UMC Community Dinner  3/11
      12. Bethel Assembly of God, Bay Roberts, Newfoundland. 3/7
      13. Anabaptist Dinner Church Boston MA 2/10
      14. “Roots and Branches” Chicago IL  2/2
      15. Redeemer Central, Belfast No. Ireland   1/26
      16. Bellwood Faith Community (UMC) Portland OR  1/21
      17. First Presbyterian, Homewood IL  1/18
      18. “Neighbors Table” Dallas TX   1/15
      19. 3rd St Dinner Church Frenchtown NJ (repeat)  1/4
      20. Crossroads at UWSP WI/ and 2 others    12/18/2015
      21. Southside Abbey (repost)   11/18
      22. “Moveable Feast” Cincinnati OH  11/13
      23. (Southside Abbey first posting)   11/9
      24. “Community Dinners” Seattle WA  11/6
      25. “Church in a Diner” billboard   11/4
      26. “The Garden” Indianapolis IN    11/2
      27. Hope Chapel Johnstown NY  10/31
      28. “Simple Church”  Grafton MA   10/26
      29. St Lydias Dinner Church Brooklyn NY (5700 reach, 71 shares)  10/23
      30. “Draughts of Faith” Pacific Beach UMC  10/20
      31. “Church in a Diner”  Lansing MI    10/20  link
      32. The Table, Orange County CA    10/19
      33. “Haven @ Table  Sheffield U K
      34. Dinner Church First UCC, Santa Rosa CA   10/9
      35. (Church in a Diner video)   10/9
      36. (Sellwood Faith Community) Portland OR   10/9
      37. (Atlantic: St Lydia’s Dinner Church)   109
  1. My postings
      1. Questionnaire on D C   9/22
      2. Reading at the Bodleian “A Camera”  8/18
      3. Dr. Mike Graves selection from his book  6/27
      4. Call for a DCM core team   6/23
      5. Preview of Graves   6/22
      6. ‘Dinner at Pemberly” 4/25
      7. Six months update   4/5  Link
      8. Begun at Bodleian/Kath’s blog on Pliny 4/2  link
      9. “Feel the Yearn” millennials  3/30   link
      10. Update March 1Began DCM II  (144 members) 3/1
      11. Report of attending my conference meeting   2/2
      12. DCM: Our Mission  (7300 reach)   12/31/2015  Link
      13. Actual beginning of DCM II   12/29
      14. 2 Month’s report  12/7
      15. Review of “Subversive Meals”  11/24   link
      16. Six weeks summary (12 sites covered, 1600 reach)  11/16
      17. Reflections on background to Dinner Church  11/7  link
      18. 3 week summary   10/28
      19. “A New/Old Model for the church”    10/21  link
      20. Report on Net Prophets   10/17   link
      21. Bibliography on SBL’s Greco-Roman Meals study  10/16
      22. Introduction of self  10/10
  1. Relevant articles
      1. Atlantic: Sometimes getting to church… is hard   9/24
      2. Christian Century: on Church Planting  4/19
      3. Sojo Net: on Bonhoeffer   4.10
      4. Christian Century: on Food Waste  2/23
      5. Survey: “How We Gather” Millennials  (6300 reach) 2/3
      6. NPR: House Churches   11/17/2015
      7. Deseret News: “Grounded” a review of Diana Bass’ book  11/10
      8. Guardian: Young Americans becoming less religious   11/4
      9. NCR: Eucharistic home meals   10/28
      10. Image: Build a bigger table  (2000 reach, 30 shares)   10/27



Laura Mauzy Bunch of the Dinner Church site ‘Servants Table’ in Tulsa OK. says she is prepared to write up a piece, but asks me if I have any directions on what she should include. I decided that it was time to draw up a sample list of questions, not only for her, but for sites in general.

I’ve made a preliminary list. Now I would like to get some input from you. If you are part of a Dinner Church site, what questions have I left out that miss what you think is relevant information to have about your program?

And if you are someone interested in beginning a Dinner Church program, what would you want to know about other sites to be helpful to you in getting started?

What is the name of your site?

Who is a good contact person?

What are your web links including home page, Facebook page, blog site, etc. if you have them?

Do you have a denominational or local church sponsor?

Do you have a particular demographic you are trying to reach?

How is your approach particularly different?

In what ways are you trying to be the same or different from a typical congregation?

If you were to describe your important or unique characteristics, what would they be?

What or who has influenced/inspired your scheme? Any particular congregation, person, or book?

Anything distinct about your meal?

Is prep and cleanup included in the program for the attenders?

Anything distinct about your worship?

Is each one different or do you have a patterned liturgy? Where did it come from?

Do you celebrate the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper?

Is there a ‘sermon’, Bible reading, discussion, other? Who leads?

Do you have music/songs/hymns?

If you had a bulletin, what would a typical night schedule look like?

Have you a mission statement? If so, what is it?

Are you familiar with similarities to early Christian meetings and worship?

Do terms like ‘festive joy’, ‘subversive’, ‘inclusion’, ‘diversity’, ‘participatory’ make any sense in your dinner church pattern?

Are you familiar with any of these names: Dennis Smith, Richard Horsley, Hal Taussig, Warren Carter, Alan Streett?

A Camera that helps me see the past

As the purpose statement reads on the Dinner Church Movement page, I am working on two matters. One is exploring Christian Origins; the second is sharing contemporary Dinner Church sites. I work on the first while waiting for examples of the second to pop up.

Right now I’m not seeing too many new dinner church sites, so I’m spending my time researching the beginnings of the church- its gathering meal and its external setting, the Roman Empire.

That’s all right with me, as a major joy for me in retirement is being able to read and research. This is especially so for a couple reasons. The first is I don’t particularly find pleasure in batting a little ball on grass and among the trees. If my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome would allow it, I would enjoy simply walking on grass and wandering among the trees.

The second is that I like the idea of reading and research without someone looking over my shoulder and making an assessment of what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. No deadlines, no grades. Just the pleasure of reading and writing.

It doesn’t hurt that I have one of the world’s largest university libraries only a local bus ride away. Think of twelve million books. You send an email listing the books you want to read to the library staff, and when you show up, the books are waiting for you.There is one downside to it. You can’t check books out; you have to read them in the library.

It isn’t that they have something against me personally. During the English Civil War, Oxford was the headquarters for the Royalists. That means King Charles had lost London to the parliament forces, so he decamped to the old college city. He must not have been overworked because he went to the Bodleian and asked to check out some books. Maybe to sharpen his military tactics? Anyway, he was told “No.” Nobody was allowed to take books out of the library. They played no favorites in the Civil War. Cromwell received the same treatment. So I don’t take it personally that I’m refused.

It was too bad that King Charles lived before someone came up with inventing scanners. They are lifesavers for me with my chronic fatigue. By the time I tootle down to the bus stop on my electric scooter, bus to Oxford, and scoot to the library, I’m about ready for my nap. I have little concentration left. But thanks to a device made by Tao-tronics I can put book pages on my scanner and download them to my computer back home and read at leisure in my recliner. The scanner is about the size and shape of three-hole punch and sells for about $50.-60. I recommend it.

In my case, I’m using a part of the Bodleian Library that is called the Radcliffe Camera. (Camera: Latin, “vaulted building”) If you’ve toured Oxford, you might remember the Camera and Radcliffe Cameraits location: the Old Bodleian Library to the north, beautiful old colleges on either side, and the University Church of St Mary’s to the south. The church is steeped in history. It is where Thomas Cranmer was tried before being executed, where John Wesley, among others, preached occasionally, and where John Henry Newman was minister before becoming Roman Catholic.

If you are interested in knowing more about Dinner Church sites and if you are interested in being notified as I post the results my research, just click ‘like’ on the Dinner Church Movement Facebook page and you will be notified when a new posting is made.

Bud Tillinghast

Dinner at Pemberley

P & P 3


One of the problems of reading is remembering something you want to use in writing but can’t recall where you read it. Likely, many of you will know what I mean.

The author was writing about our assessment of the Roman Empire and why that assessment has changed in the last couple of decades. Unfortunately for remembering the location of the material I want to use, I’ve been reading dozens of books on the Empire in the last year. That is because I’m researching two current studies of the New Testament and both of them place their  interpretation in the context of the Roman Empire.

One of the studies looks at Jesus and his message in its first century context, which context is the Roman Empire. The second study focusses on the origins of the church, and they find that beginning to be set in what can be called ‘associations’ in the social culture of- guess what?- the Roman Empire. I’ll be going into detail about both of these investigations of the New Testament in later postings. But I want to get back to their assessment of the Empire.

With some exceptions, those who studied that Bible in an academic fashion for years viewed the Empire as basically a benevolent force for the growth of the Church. Let me speak about my own experience. My New Testament professor in seminary, Pacific School of Religion, was Dr. Jack Finegan. He was known to the outside world as the author of many books, including “Light From the Ancient Past”, and “Archaeology of the New Testament”, both well used and respected in seminary circles. A search of Amazon will show 63 books by him still available after 50+ years.  Yet to those of us who had him as a teacher, what impressed us most was his combining an academic life with owning a yacht (one had to watch Finegan’s Wake- sorry!) and being married to a former Powers Model wife!

But back to the Empire. I think from his academic output that one could safely say that Professor Finegan was well acquainted with the Empire. What I recall most in his assessment of the Roman Empire was its (unintentional) assistance to the promulgation of the Gospel. The Empire had well built roads, which made the job of the Apostles easier in their spreading the Word through the scattered cities of the day. The Legions kept the roads free of bandits. The common culture and languages (Greek and Roman) made preaching the Good News easier to be said and understood. The Roman Empire, on the whole, was considered by Dr. Finegan to be a “good thing” for the early Church.

There were, of course, negative things about the Empire, one of which was involvement in putting Jesus to death. But that could be seen as a tragic mistake. Jesus was, after all, an apocalyptic prophet or a wise teacher of religion, or a Jewish mystic. But certainly not a political figure. Or was he?

So how did we get to where the current Biblical scholars of what we might call an ‘Empire Analysis’ see the Empire in such an ominous light? One of the major books of this school says it well in the title, “In the Shadow of the Empire”. What different writers say in the chapters are variations on the fact that the Empire impacted every facet of the life of every person living in it for the whole of their lives.  When Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee and called those fishermen to follow him you don’t find the Gospel writer speaking of Rome. But that event took place in the shadow of the Empire. Peter and the others knew the influence of Rome. Depending on the year, 20 to 40% of the fish they caught were taken by Rome as imperial taxes, tribute. Rome controlled the ‘civilized’ world of the time and every event of every day was lived in its shadow. It was always there, whether mentioned or not. If that is the case, why did the Biblical scholars wait so long to call it to our attention?

That brings me back to the quote whose source I cannot remember. That quote was to raise the question: What was the context in which modern Biblical scholarship began? The answer is that it arose in Europe, mostly Germany and Britain, in the eighteenth century. It was the time when European countries had developed empires. And those empires, at least to those who lived on the benefits of them, were considered ‘good things’. Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” talks about Pemberley Manor and dances and spas. But it never mentions the colonies and sugar plantations which made that grand life-style possible.

Empires are always a mixed value, their assessment depending on where you are in its pecking order. I could call you attention to the fact that there are more currents of Biblical scholarship today than the two I am concentrating on. There is, for instance, what are called ‘Postcolonial Studies’. On the whole, they are views of empire by those who had suffered the effects of it- the colonials. The view from the bottom is different from the assessment from the top!

There is another example about how a matter can go through a shift in its assessment. In today’s papers we read articles that call us to change our assessment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom is either our ‘solid ally in the Middle East’ or it is the source of ‘spreading the cancer of Islamic fundamentalism’ in western and other countries through funding mosques that preach Wahabism.

So the Roman Empire is not the only power over which one might have a change of assessment. But it is important at first just to realize that, whether or not it is referred to in every passage of the New Testament, the Roman Empire is there, and we cannot be faithful to the words our Christian forebears have given to us unless we understand the context in which they wrote those words and in which those words were heard by early congregations.