Candi Powell is among the many Minnesotans who hunger for an uplifting religious experience on Sundays. Her young children probably hunger more for some pasta and dessert. Both are served up at an unusual Apple Valley worship service called “Breaking Bread.”
The service has no long sermons, no sitting in pews, no musty hymns. The faithful sit at tables in the church’s social hall, and halfway through the service they stroll to a potluck buffet, fill their plates, and return to chat with neighbors.
“I love the format,” said Powell, who recently attended the service at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church for the first time. “It makes it more family friendly. You’re not just sitting. And it’s easy to come here, knowing there is dinner.”
Breaking Bread, launched last year, is among a variety of experiments unfolding at Twin Cities churches as they try to reach new and younger members. They’re also designed to support existing members interested in something new.
The church’s lead senior pastor, the Rev. Rick Summy, had offered a dinner service for people recovering from addiction at his previous congregation. Church leaders at Shepherd of the Valley decided to give it a try in Apple Valley, hosting an informal service with popular music, children participation, and a warm meal, said the Rev. Wendy Steger, who oversees the worship.
“The idea was to give people an option,” said Steger, “to help people not comfortable in a traditional worship service.”
Besides, early Christians often met over meals, she noted. Breaking Bread is a 21st-century version of that.
During a recent Sunday dinner hour, about 50 adults and children gathered around the tables in the church social hall, facing a small, makeshift altar covered with a few candles.
Before grabbing chairs, they dropped off dishes and desserts brought from home on a sprawling table upfront. The main course, including tender pork slices, was provided by the church.
Lisa Nofzinger was among the early arrivals, setting a tray of cupcakes at the buffet before staking out a table. She’s made this service her church home since it was launched last fall.
“You feel very welcome here,” said Nofzinger. “I’ve been coming to church for years, but I’ve never made a commitment. I probably will now.”
The service began with a guitarist and a young vocalist performing a popular Christian song, apropos for the occasion, entitled “We Are Hungry.”
Steger then led Gospel readings, joined in another song, and delivered an informal sermon that was actually a conversation with her husband, who joined her up front.
“I was not raised going to church,” Steger told the folks gathered. “Then I met this guy,” she said, gesturing to the tall fellow in jeans and red sweatshirt sitting next to her.
“This is Don, everyone!” she said with a smile.
The two related Steger’s journey to become a minister and described how they live their faith in their daily actions, big and small. When they finished, Steger announced: “Now we’ll go to our buffet.”
The group headed to a table packed with ravioli, salads, casseroles and desserts. At the end of the line was a tray of thimble-sized glasses of wine. As participants returned to their dinner tables, snippets of conversation echoed around the room.
“What school do you go to?” one woman asked the little girl next to her.
“This is pretty good,” a man remarked to his wife.
When the plates were nearly empty, Steger offered a communion prayer. The faithful took a tiny piece of bread from a bowl on the table and a sip of their wine.
Carrie and Mark Gamm, seated with their two children, pronounced the service a success.
Son Carter Gamm added: “I like that you can talk during the service!”
When the service ended, the Powell family lingered, chatting with friends.
“The music was fantastic,” Candi Powell said. “And the sermon was relevant, something you can talk to the kids about, too.
“It’s nice to do something different,” she added.