There is an unadvertised course offered each semester at Grimké Seminary. It has no prerequisites, no required reading, no weekly quizzes, and no research papers. The course is graded solely on participation and takes place immediately following the evening chapel. Anyone is welcome, and if you have enrolled in this class before, you know it is the most formative course offered at Grimké. The course is called: Meals at Grimké.
As soon as our beloved president Dr. Doug Logan prays and bestows the evening’s benediction, this course’s add/drop begins. Enrollment opens each night anew, with groups huddling to discuss where that particular evening’s class will take place. Preferences are laid aside as a brother from Maine agrees to eat Indian food for the first time. Another brother from Texas agrees to eat barbeque even though he thinks “it’s just not as good.” The brothers from Detroit are heading to eat Thai food for the third night in a row.
We walk into the night, discussions breaking out. Up and down the sidewalks of Richmond, we make our way to restaurants and bars. Upon entering an establishment, we ask for a table for twelve. Immediately, panic seizes the hostess, and she signals a nearby waiter to help her push several tables together. She vanishes, then returns to ask, “Do you mind if we separate you into multiple tables?”
Once seated, the class begins. The conversation typically begins with a “what did you learn today?” and a “what classes are you in?” Back and forth, the dialogue deepens. “What did you learn in Theology II today?” The brother from Alaska replies, “There’s a lot there.” Elders in training sit next to more experienced elders and listen.
“What can I get you to eat?” interjects our energetic waitress. Unbeknownst to her, we have been eating all day (John 4:32), and she has interrupted a conversation about deontological ethics, the hypostatic union, or preaching Christ from all the Scriptures.
“Is anyone ready to place their order?” One of our dear brothers from St. Louis takes the initiative and orders the spiciest possible dish. We all wonder if he will be able to tolerate the heat or if he will pay a high price. Roaring laughter breaks out at one end of the table every few minutes, followed by the other end. Onlookers no doubt wonder if we are drunk. They aren’t used to this much laughter from sober men. We waste no time enjoying the appetizers as we wait on our main course. Reference is made to the chapel service, “Dropping the anchor of our faith in the dark night of the soul is exactly the word we needed.”
“The nights around the table are as formative as the days spent in the classroom.”—Andrew Lovette
The meal begins, and a hush breaks across the table, like the stillness at creation when the Spirit broods over the waters, or like Israel standing at the edge of the sea, still and quiet (Ex. 14:14). The food is up to the standards of the foodies, but now stands in the way of continued conversation. Comments in between bites leave lasting impressions, pushing and pulling our hearts to greater worship of Jesus.
Each group of students alters the recipe of conversation. Every formal class provides the ingredients of conversation. Every circumstance places a unique pinch of flavor to the dish. While our minds and hearts are full of calories from the day’s classes, the day isn’t complete until we chew, swallow, and digest the day’s meal with each other. Each heart is heavy with ministerial burdens. But we know the Lord has set the table before us and the meal always fades into the background in light of the One who sets the table.
Once we discuss the food we received in class, we move on to digesting and applying the learning to our life in ministry. “How is your wife?” “Are you entering this week encouraged or discouraged?” We bear the burdens of the brothers around us as we neglect to eat. The tensions of congregational expectations, married life, the highs and lows of parenting. Theological calories consumed are now metabolized around the table.
“Are you ready for the check?” The meal is settling, and the drink has made our hearts happy (Eccl. 9:7–8), and our time together around a meal has built us up in Christ. The hour betrays the grey-haired pastors. Neon lights that illuminated the windows have been turned off for some time now. The restaurant appears to be closing, and the body language of the hostess colorfully says, “Class is dismissed.”
The class lets out, and we go our separate ways. The nights around the table are as formative as the days spent in the classroom. Seeking to know God. Seeking to eat with the brothers. Seeking to put the calories consumed to good use. But for now, we sleep. How appropriate and kind of the Father to form us, feed us, and then lay us down to sleep, only to wake us up the following morning to do it all over again.
I cannot tell you how many times I have excitedly attended this class, and I can say that it has changed my life and practice as a pastor. Meals at Grimké might be out of session until next semester begins, but the fruit this class yields in the brothers’ lives who take it is fruit that is ready in and out of season. Each meal deepens the longing of our hearts for a promised future meal with another Brother who loved us and gave himself for us.