My rant from recent Seeds Gathering based on Mark Pierson’s Slow Food work, a shorter version made the Vic. Baptist Witness paper. (Slow Sunday image from a Docklands promo postcard I found in the city.)
Seeds: A Taste of Slow
It’s pretty easy to eat poorly in the fast food culture of Melbourne’s CBD. The over worked corporate grabbing a burger on the run often bumps into the under employed beggar coming in the door united by the temptation of sugar, salt, and fat. It’s a meal of convenience that feels OK while you’re eating it but does little to satisfy and long term makes you fat, lazy and sick.
As a “mob” of people who live, work and worship in the city Urban Seed has sought to create an alternative food culture by establishing a worshiping missional community around the production and consumption of a meal which is inclusively offered to homeless people and corporates alike, where you can “taste and see” some different values.
Sharing a meal a core part of our Seeds life.
• The obvious one described above is Credo Café hosted by Central House residents and Credo volunteers.
• But also in other places:
• Brent and Belinda, Tony and Sarah at Norlane Baptist in Geelong
• Wednesday nights in Footscray with, Chris and Katherine, Meggsie and Bri, Rachael and I.
• Brunswick with Gin and Jeff and Tomsy and Amber. Etc…
Some of the different values of these meals take their cues from the Slow Food Movement which arose in Italy as a response to the negative impact of multinational food companies and is spreading around the world – slowly! Starting in Italy in 1986 by Carlo Petrini as a protest to the introduction of a multinational food company it has become a movement that today has branches over the five continents, in 130 countries, with about 80 000 people.
Slow Food opposes the standardisation of taste, protects cultural identity tied to food and seeks to safeguard processing techniques inherited from tradition. It involves valuing time to prepare, eat and build community through food. It is sometimes critiqued as being an upper class pursuit, however far from extravagant eating, Slow Food is about the celebration of the connections that food can make with sustainable production and local food traditions that are often lost in our economy.
Anyone who has shared Cornish Pasties at my house will know that you are consuming much more than just the pasty.
• There is the story of our local organic food coop; the ethical farming where the food came from and the way the co-op has worked as a basis for our local relationships.
• There is History; the famines of the 1840’s that caused my forebears to come to Australia from Cornwall.
• Learning process of learning how to chop, prepare, put them together crimp etc. and the stories of why this was important in the original context.
• The debates about what makes a pasty ”proper” Cornish, sauce or no sauce etc.
(A rather funny link here where a literature site devoted to Sam Pepys Diary gets taken over by pasty enthusiasts causing some to despair!)
This is what Slow Food has to say to fast food culture. You call that food but you’re missing out on so much. It is like what Jesus is says in this weeks passage. “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Jesus is trying to tell us there is much more than just bread.
The Slow food movement has helped us reframe our understanding of what it means to be “church”. We believe that if you read the gospels without getting hungry you aren’t really paying attention. Just look at the lectionary for Ordinary Time. After 6 weeks on bread in John 6, we travel next week back to Mark 7 in which we debate foods that are clean or unclean. The how, what, where and with whom Jesus eats is a central point of gospel conflict and, coming out of the feeding miracles, ”understanding about the loaves” (Mark 6:52) is presented as essential to understanding Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation.
After a decade of sharing lunch with homeless people we have decided we want to explore a slow worship movement. This has little to do with singing slower or less songs (although this has been a useful result!) Rather than just picking up a pre-packaged worship meal it’s been about reflecting on what we are wanting to do/achieve in worship and taking time, in our local setting, to use local resources, that reflect our local community culture.
Firstly our worship is slow because it has taken a long time to come about. It is worship that has come out of a sense of mission. The first Urban Seed worship gathering was a prayer time before lunch at Credo Café. As homeless people started assisting with meal preparation the nature of the prayers changed and the meal itself became a kind of sacrament. Lots of our prayers, songs and interactive style have come from this dynamic. Our Slow Worship is often improvisation that has come from a core of people who have been bonded by the communitas of difficult mission and after a decade of being the church on everyday except Sundays.
Slow food looks at the connections between consumption and production and this is also vital for our worship.
Some of the principles that Mark Pierson shaped up at the beginning of these gatherings included a commitment to good consumption where the emphasis is upon creating spiritual desire rather than just meeting spiritual needs.
So much of our church culture seems to be about meeting needs. I must admit I’ve always managed to skip and avoid doing pastoral care subjects at theological college. Ill invite you to my house for a meal but I’m not the most caring or careful person going around! Perhaps one reason for this is because I rarely see Jesus as being a tingling mass of availability for people. In the gospel reading tonight Jesus teaching about food produces huge negative reactions in his followers and many of them leave!
I want to suggest that Jesus teaching methods were more about creating spiritual desire than meeting spiritual needs. Like a great TV commercial (and some would argue these are the most sophisticated and demanding forms of art/communication in our culture) Jesus left people bemused, shocked, thrilled, confused, never bored, always hanging for more.
Desire and need are connected. Much of negative consumer culture is about the production of false consumer desire…redefining wants into felt needs. The response of the disciples who stayed; “Where else will we go”? says something of worship and necessity. The only communities that work are those of necessity; we all need to eat; physically and spiritually and so we need to base worship around peoples deepest needs.
Another key positive of consumer culture is the choice it gives us. Through regular use of worship stations participants are given real choice to interact with the style, aspects, themes they most need at a worship gathering, taking a smorgasboard approach rather than a set menu.
We also have high production values which reject the so called “excellent” entertainment culture for a more simple, everyday creativity that express broad and deep connections with, God, the earth and our culture.
Mark Pierson has recently been on an overseas trip running Slow Food and Worship Seminars (lots of these ideas are his!) He suggests what people are longing for in worship is breadth and depth.
Our Dead Man Waiting Easter Saturday service was attacked by the Sydney Anglicans as being superficial. Alternative worship prioritizing image over words and style over substance. As if a church service containing 125 kilos of ice would somehow water down the gospel!
Actually the service was far from superficial but based around the psychological stages of grieving…Denial, Anger, Guilt/Shame/self blame etc. Some people would not have realized the depth of this framework shaping the event in any conscious way however the substance of this allowed space for people to grieve their lives. It was very powerfull for many Christians who had not considered these themes at depth and also for non- churched people who appreciated the non threatening invitation to explore very threatening themes!
Breadth includes ranges of peoples and backgrounds, stages of faith, good explanations and intros or worship elements, a variety of learning styles, a balance of traditions and repetitions with new forms and ideas. It sees worship within broader context of justice, politics, economics, pointing to worship as life in the real world as local and global followers of Jesus.
Production and Censorship is also important. I believe Slow worship should be honest; rather than cover over our differences it should allow them to come out.
During my recent trip overseas I spent time with a pastor who has worked with this approach over some time. In her absence she had left the communion in the hands of a Gay Bretheren man and a Wiccan pagan who is seeking to follow Christ. The process of working it out together had been extremely challenging for both of them.
I would much rather have someone preach something heretical or even hurtful and then have to deal with that pastorally as a faith community, acknowledging this difficulty within our midst than have worship that doesn’t allow the honest expression of our identity, culture and struggle. Let us bring our difference to the heart of the liturgy. This means you may not like what is going on in worship any given week but you have the opportunity and perhaps more importantly the spiritually responsibility to produce otherwise next week. In my experience our dominant worship culture rarely encourages or requires spiritual responsibility or gives people spiritual authority.
Some of our favourite prayers from Credo were written by unlikely people. Homeless “worship curators” who get the “Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head” better than those of us with mortgages!
Emerging worship isn’t about video loops and candles or art, it’s about worship that is authentically for the people, by the people and of the people.
As an activist missional “mob” it is ultimately about a Slow Church movement. Slow Food and Sabbath are profoundly connected. At “Seeds” we don’t expect anyone to attend anything or do anything and actively celebrate when people choose Sabbath rest over showing up on Sunday.
Upon reading this my colleague Kate Allen questioned whether any church could really celebrate the non attendance of its participants.
Our guiding principles push us to see our sense of community in the broadest terms ie. those connected by geography, interest, world wide web, occasional attendance, attendance at specific resourcing events. We also should know that the ‘Sunday Worship’ event is only one element among many resources offered to the wider community. Part of my vision for Seeds is that we may begin to develop cluster communities, small networks of people in different places bonded by the disciplines that have made Seeds what it is. 1. Discerning what is “The Word” on the Street, 2. Sharing slow food, and 3. Re-imagining what Jesus missionary instructions of Healing, Teaching and Casting out Evil might look like today.
I believe the charism of Seeds is that we expect people to follow Jesus with the whole of their lives and be consumed not by ‘church” activities but the mission of God in the world.
Whilst speaking at the recent Urban Neighbours of Hope Conference I was struck by the positive response of people to these ideas, hungry for new ways of being church.
Slow Foodies are missionaries.They understand their community, their congregation, and what they are trying to achieve in their worship in a specific place and time. In a fast food world we need a taste of Slow Food, Slow Worship, Slow Church.
(The Slow Food Victoria Festival “A Taste of Slow runs from Aug 28-September 10 2006, www.atasteofslow.com.au)