Fellowship meals in church

Dear BPCWA worshipper, When COVID-19 restrictions occurred, we have had to stop all fellowship meals in church. It was not practical to do it during the time when COVID-19 restrictions were required. The church has the legal obligation to maintain compliance to distancing and capacity requirements in place, besides the additional cleaning and sanitisation guidelines.  However, I am very glad we can have some meals together in church once again. Why did we need to stop it at that time? We were very careful because it is not worth being shut down due to issues that inadvertently arise though unintentional, issues which may affect our ability to worship in church. Yesterday, we held our first Seniors Fellowship meeting post-COVID with the resumption of lunch thereafter. Some have been asking if we will resume fellowship meals in church, and I hope these pastorals this and next week will help to put everyone on the same page.

Fellowship meals used to be a common part of BPCWA life. There have often been questions arising about its resumption. I feel that it is important to set the right Biblical principles about church fellowship meals as we resume them because we can be so used to it, we lose our bearings on why we have fellowship meals in the past, and how it should be moving forward.

What is the aim of fellowship meals? Before restarting anything, we must always take a step back and ask ourselves why are we having it. Simply because something has always been done doesn’t mean that it should always be done without reminding ourselves why. 1) To allow for other purposes, not just about the meal. It is to enable people to follow and serve God better. Christ’s purpose for feeding those that followed Him was not merely to be a “café on demand”. In Mark 8, we have the account of His miracle of feeding the thousands with 7 loaves and a few small fishes. He taught us his purpose for this feeding – “And if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way: for divers of them came from far” (Mark 8:3). (a) In some cases, we do arrange for meals where possible, just as after our Annual Congregational Meeting, which may end unpredictably late. (b) Previously, for the Men’s and Ladies’ Fellowship, dinners were primarily to provide for those who had spent the afternoon serving in the Nursing Homes and who had rushed back to the church for these night meetings. Now that many are unable to visit Nursing Homes due to the visitor limitations, this need to provide dinner is no longer there. As has naturally happened during the past year, brothers and sisters can now grow spiritually together during the Adelphos (ie brothers) and Adelphe (ie sisters) fellowships, without the need for a separate Men’s and Ladies’ Fellowship. Besides, with the church being used in the afternoons for worship as well now, the preparation that typically took place in the afternoon for the dinner fellowship will not be possible any longer, as it will be a distraction to the afternoon worshippers. 2) Build spiritual bonds and closeness. We have many instances in the Bible of Christ dining with His disciples. Dining together has a way to build closeness. While it is not possible to return to what it used to be, the church may supplement it by providing opportunities to fellowship, such as what we’ve restarted at the Seniors Fellowship lunch yesterday. However, though we have resumed it for now, this is always subject to practicality and time considerations.

The wrong mindset about fellowship meals. What are some mindsets we need to avoid? 1) Are the physical meals more important than the intended spiritual purposes? Christ was invited to Mary and Martha’s house for a meal. Martha was unhappy that she had too much things to do, and complained to the Lord to “bid her therefore that she help me” (Lu 10:40). Instead, Christ reprimanded her that she was “careful and troubled about many things” (Lu 10:41) and was chastened to remember instead that “Mary hath chosen that good part” (Lu 10:42). Martha was interested in preparing a great meal for her guests so that there is much eating. She forgot that physical food is ultimately secondary to the spiritual purpose that food was intended to aid. Sometimes, there are limited resources and time, and we will not forgo the spiritual on the altar of the temporal. 2) Do we stay back to fellowship only when there are food and beverages? I thank God that many continued to stay back all these months to fellowship and talk, although we have stopped the Sunday lunches and are not serving coffee, tea, and biscuits after the Worship Service. These understand that food is not the central part of fellowshipping. Rather, fellowship and building bonds were always why they stayed back in the first place. It is the wrong attitude and understanding if we do not stay back to fellowship with one another simply because refreshments are not served, or even blame the church that “there is no fellowship after church these days because there is no more food”. 3) Is it the church’s duty to organise and ensure that there are fellowship meals? The Old Testament had feasts, but they were not primarily about eating, but about the worship of God. In the New Testament, even the Holy Communion had spiralled downward to really being merely about gluttony, feasting and eating. Imagine this, even the love feast in church degenerated to be about eating the best things, and then go home. Providing a feast and being able to eat in church is not the expectation God puts upon the church. The church’s commission is not to organise meals for the sake of meals. We plan for meals when that helps to facilitate the teaching or service while providing for opportunities for brethren to bond over meals. Except for the Holy Communion bread and cup, meals are never the church’s duty and primary focus. When we lose focus on that, it really becomes only about doing what I want and what satisfies me. Most certainly, meals should never be used to attract unbelievers (and even worse, believers) to come to church. 

With these Biblical principles and rationale of why the church had fellowship meals in the past, I will then cover, in the next pastoral, when fellowship meals will occur in church moving forward, and what we need to observe during these meals.

John 6:26-27  Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. 27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.

Yours in our Lord’s service,