In this time of crisis, social distancing, and uncertainty, the things people need most are prayer, support, and encouragement.
But how are those things shared when we can’t be together?
On the evening of Sunday, May 3, the South Georgia Conference gathered for a virtual Agape Meal, a time of fellowship and connection.
Introduced to John Wesley by the Moravians, Agape Meals became a significant part of early Methodism. And at a time when the church is scattered because of the coronavirus pandemic, Sunday’s Agape Meal helped fill in the gaps felt by not being together in corporate worship, participants said.
Sitting at their kitchen table next to his wife, Sherrill, Bishop Bryan summarized Acts chapter 2, verses 42 and 46-47.
“They worshiped God every day in the temple and then they went to their homes and they broke bread together … with glad and generous hearts,” he said.
We understand why Jesus was so focused on inviting people to the table, Bishop Bryan said. It wasn’t just a catchy way to build relationships, but far more.
“When we are gathered around a table … when people are brought together, that is a taste of the Kingdom of God, and we want everyone to be at that table.”
United Methodists from around the South Georgia Conference gathered around their own tables with their own versions of comfort food to participate in the Agape Meal. From Fort Valley to Willacoochee to Midland and everywhere in between, people tuned in to break bread together.
“As my husband and I sat outside with our comfort food and watched as comments were being shared and people interacted online, I imagined myself literally ‘with’ everyone gathered and sharing common space as Christians, United Methodists, and our connection across South Georgia. It was very moving for me,” said Allison Lindsey, who helped organize the Agape Meal and took part in it from her home in Douglas.
On the far side of the state, Patricia Gibbs, a member of Trinity Chapel UMC on Tybee Island, said it was a pleasure to join the Bryans for the Agape Meal.
“It was the first time in a long time that I sat across the table and had people to see,” Gibbs said. “It was not only a peaceful and spiritual experience, but for someone living alone, it was a blessing to see faces and hear voices in my own home.”
For Rev. Carrie Myers, pastor of Ashburn First and Sycamore United Methodist Churches, the Agape Meal was a time to be connected with friends.
“It was interesting and fun to see my pastor friends and church members,” said Rev. Myers, who enjoyed a meal of crackers, cheese, grapes.
She appreciated the Facebook chat platform that enabled participants to interact and dialogue with one another.
“We were kind of eating supper together. We haven’t been able to do that, and I really enjoyed that aspect of it.”
Rev. Rebecca Duke-Barton, pastor of Jesup First United Methodist Church, appreciated how Mrs. Bryan tied her trip to the Holy Land and her reading of John 21 into the meal by serving fish and bread.
“I was so grateful to Bishop and Mrs. Bryan for opening their home to us and inviting us to share a meal together,” she said. “Even though they were eating tilapia and we had chicken nuggets, they created a sense of togetherness around the table.”
The prayer was especially meaningful to Rev. Duke-Barton.
“I loved how the Bryans named groups who needed prayer and left us to fill in at our own table specific names. It helped me to remember some friends who needed prayer. I think of how many names were spoken in prayer across South Georgia.”
At a time when people are looking for ways to stay connected to one another while remaining socially distant, the Agape Meal proved a tangible way for South Georgia United Methodists to feel a sense of connectedness and see the Holy Spirit at work.
“One thing that has become so very evident to me over the past several weeks is that the church cannot be contained in a building. We all know this to be true, but are experiencing it in a very different way during this time,” Lindsey said. “The Spirit is at work among us in indescribable ways, but ways that are deeply felt.”
To experience the Agape Meal, visit www.sgaumc.org/agapemeal.