Dinner Church at New Covenant UMC
November 2, 2020
By: Rev. Meg Gaston
When Rev. Myer Dahn was appointed to New Covenant UMC in Lenoir, he noticed there was a need for a church presence at their Harper’s Chapel Campus. New Covenant United Methodist Church (NCUMC) is the merger of two local United Methodist Churches, Smith Memorial and Harper’s Chapel. Harper’s Chapel was established in the early 1900s in the northwestern sector of the City of Lenoir NC. Three years ago, Harper’s Chapel closed because the Church could no longer financially sustain itself, which adversely shifted the vitality of that community. After reflecting and assessing the neighborhood and needs of the residents, NCUMC has decided to re-engage and restore the community. The ministry of Dinner Church became a reality after Myer attended a presentation on dinner churches at the Appalachian District office of the United Methodist Church facilitated by Rev. Luke Edwards. After attending the workshop, he knew this was something he could do in his ministry setting. He saw a need for evangelistic outreach, so he developed a team and started working towards this shared goal.
Harper’s Chapel was a church that had been closed because they could not sustain themselves financially, but their building is still a wonderful place to do ministry. Before COVID hit, Myer said they were averaging anywhere from 75 to 115 people attending their dinner church. They did not want to just serve a meal where people would come, eat, and leave, so Myer thought to add in an evangelistic aspect in the form of storytelling. Myer trained twelve story tellers and each of them would sit at a different table during the meal and tell their own redemptive story, how they came to know Christ. For example, they would share their experience serving in the military and being in Iraq, and how they had struggled with alcoholism and been saved. Each one told their own stories throughout the time of dinner church which usually lasted from 4pm-6pm.
To make this dinner church run smoothly, Myer’s had five different teams all working to help make it what it was. There was the Administrative and operational team that were responsible for writing their grant proposal, coordinating, and monitoring the dinner church. Then he had a cooking team that prepared the meals, a serving team to serve them, a set-up team, and the storytelling team. They started preparing for the dinner church in September of 2019, and by the first Sunday in November they were ready to go. With COVID, they are no longer able to meet in the same ways, so instead of serving meals indoors, they are handing out bags of food.
To fund this dinner church, they have received grants from the district vitality team, had members make personal donations, and had people in the community including local companies give donations.
As the dinner church has grown, Myer has watched as most of the people who attend the dinner church are outside of their church. They have partnered with First UMC in Lenoir who picks up a lot of their guests from the men's shelter. In addition to these men, they are able to serve the homeless and people with lower income in their community. Myer watched as a couple of members who had stopped coming to church began to come to dinner church and also started attending Sunday worship once again. The majority of the people who come to the dinner church are people who do not attend church but live in the community. Unfortunately, after just a few months of hosting Dinner Church, they had to stop because of COVID but Myer is hopeful that once it starts up again they will be able to help more people.
The most beautiful thing about this for Myer is that he is able to watch the community of believers come together and serve those who are nonbelievers. At this dinner church, denominational affiliation doesn’t matter because they all agree that this is kingdom work. This dinner church has already resulted in a handful of those who had never accepted Christ coming to the meals and finding a welcoming and warm place. Rev. Dahn and his worshipping community are truly living into Jesus’ call to love those who are often overlooked and undervalued.
*The Conference Communications team wants to share the stories of hope and creativity that are unfolding in United Methodist churches across Western NC. Please email your ministry story to WNCC Communications Director, Melissa McGill, at firstname.lastname@example.org.