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When the beginning of Lent rolled around last year, the congregation I serve had been gathering for worship via Zoom for 49 weeks — with what ended up being 20 more to go before we returned to our sanctuary.

We did not mark Ash Wednesday because we did not need more reminders of our mortality. We had them in spades, all around us. What we needed was levity and celebration. We needed to feast before embarking on the journey toward the cross. So we gathered, via Zoom, on Fat Tuesday and had a pączki party!

Pączki come to us from Poland and are a deep-fried yeasted dough; shaped into spheres; covered with powdered sugar, icing, or glaze; and filled with fruit, cream, jelly, or custard. In a community with numerous bakeries and a strong Eastern European heritage, the choices are endless – and delicious!

We met for about 30 minutes, talked about which bakery people had gotten their pączki from, and what variety or flavor was the favorite. Some people came with cookies or other pastry instead of pączki, and one family had made their own pączki the night before!

It’s harder to share pączki when you gather via Zoom, but we had a grand time. There’s something about gathering around the table.

As the pandemic slogged on in the fall of 2020, in addition to getting a puppy, my wife and I also got a new dining room table which her parents built for us. Our previous table had served us well, but the chairs were terribly uncomfortable, which became a problem with as much time as we spent in them on Zoom! Elizabeth and I found and purchased new chairs which are delightful to sit in, and her parents built a counter-height table for us to go with the chairs.

In non-pandemic times, the table is the place we gather with family, friends, and neighbors. We gather to share a meal (or at least a cookie) and to share life. We gather to tell stories and encourage each other. We gather to pray, counsel, listen, laugh, celebrate. We gather to find fresh hope and to be restored. We gather. Together. Around the table.

In the layout of our home, it is from the table that you can see into the kitchen in one direction and the living room in the other – and be seen from both of those rooms. The table is where you are seen and known, the table is the fulcrum, the table is the heart.

At Faith Community, we will gather at the table each Sunday during Lent. It is certainly not the same using prepackaged, individually sealed, elements instead of intinction with Hawaiian bread and grape juice, and yet we gather. At the table. Together. In our sanctuary and at the same time via Zoom, as we continue to gather in both ways at the same time. It’s a dance.

The first Sunday of each month, we will go from Table to Table. After we gather at the communion table, we pack bags of non-perishable food which are delivered each Friday to kids at our neighborhood elementary school who are food insecure. Pre-pandemic, we also gathered at the lunch table on those days, going from communion table to lunch table to packing food bags which enable kids in our community to eat at their own table.

This movement grounds things theologically: our fellowship with each other around the lunch table flows out of our worshipping life around the communion table, and our service to the broader community flows out from there in fabulously intergenerational ways. A toddler walks around filling bags as if she is trick-or-treating, a 90-yr.-old grins from ear-to-ear as she places food items into the toddler’s bag, and grade-schoolers work in partnership with consistory members to wrangle the juice boxes. Additionally, this movement helped level the playing field as members of the congregation who are themselves food-insecure were given the honor and opportunity to serve and give back rather than merely receiving.

I appreciate a congregation who gathers at both the communion table and the dinner table regularly. The past two years I have also been continually and increasingly grateful for a congregation willing to be nimble and creative in our gathering; and while I look forward to a day when we can safely gather around lunch tables again, today our tables still look and feel different. Even so, the table is where you are seen and known, the table is the fulcrum, the table is the heart.

The journey toward the cross begins soon enough. For now, let’s celebrate! Our second annual Zoom Pączki Party is Tuesday evening at 7:00 (CST). Come join us!

Christopher Poest

Christopher M. Poest is the senior pastor of Faith Community Reformed Church in Stickney, Illinois, a near-west suburb of Chicago, where he has served since 2004. He lives in Stickney with his wife, Elizabeth, and their mini-Bernedoodle, Ernie, who has his own Instagram account.

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