Common Ground: an innovative farm-to-table dinner ministry where people make church together

By the Rev. Sarah Buteux

It’s Thursday night and people are starting to arrive for Common Ground, a farm-to-table dinner ministry at First Churches of Northampton, Mass. Folks come through the door, hang up their coats, and then put on aprons because worship for us starts in the kitchen. Our liturgy actually begins with a recipe that will highlight food we have either grown in our community garden or sourced as locally as possible.

Once the soup is on and the salad is prepared, people spread out to set tables, learn music, catch up with one another or explore the evening’s theme through art that will grace our worship space. By six o’clock, most everyone has arrived, and I begin to sing a simple call-and-response melody. As I sing, the congregation gathers in a circle and receives a candle. Harmonies begin to emerge as everyone settles into the rhythm and holiness of the space. As the song concludes, I welcome those gathered to Common Ground. “Tonight as we cook and eat together, as we light our candles and pray together, as we talk and clean up together, we hope to make something holy together. We hope to make church together.”

At Common Ground, that is precisely what we do. We pass the light of Christ from candle to candle as we sing and pray. Those candles are then placed in sand bowls at the center of each table to illuminate our meal. With the help of a cantor, the congregation joins in chanting a blessing and consecrating the bread and the cup. The bread is then passed around the circle, as people offer communion to one another. All the excess is placed on the tables to accompany our meal, a sign of God’s abundance.

People make their way to the kitchen and help themselves to soup and then find a table and settle in for an evening of sacred conversation. Scriptures are read, and a short reflection is offered. I keep my remarks to a minimum because, at Common Ground, even the sermon is a communal act. People share their thoughts and questions and build off the insights of one another until it is time to wrap things up with a poem and a final blessing.

As I lead a new song, everyone gathers in a circle once again to be annointed and blessed. Conversation continues as we put away tables and chairs, wash and dry the dishes or simply find a quiet corner in which to pray for one another. Plans are made to meet in the garden where our work and our worship will continue until the next Thursday, when we’ll gather to make church together again.


The Rev. Sarah Buteux is founding pastor of Common Ground as well as associate pastor and minister of Christian Education and Outreach at First Churches of Northampton, Mass. For information about Common Ground, visit firstchurches.org.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies.