Fall is the time of year when many church congregations return to Wednesday night programming and a mix of food, fellowship and faith. These midweek gatherings offer opportunities that go beyond Sunday worship and education.
“These are more what we would call discipleship classes,” said Jo Ann Stancil, minister of education and administration at Wake Forest Baptist Church. “We take it a step farther than what Sunday school does on Sunday morning. All of the classes are a good way for us to not only disciple, give opportunity for deeper Bible study, but also to get to know people better.”
At Wake Forest Baptist there are programs, groups and classes for all ages on Wednesday nights.
This fall, the younger children are learning about missions while the middle and high schoolers meet in small groups for discussion.
Adults can choose from sessions on what devotedness means in a Christian life or how to make sense of life transitions. There’s also a class that teaches sign language as part of the church’s ministry to the deaf, and Stancil is leading a film-based study group.
“I am showing excerpts of the movie ‘Divergent’ and doing a Bible study off of a theme that I find in each of the sections of the movie,” Stancil said. “It’s a fun thing for me. I’m a real movie buff.”
And while the study and discussion topics change from season to season, one constant is the meal that is served first.
“I think fellowship around a table breaks down barriers,” Stancil said. “You’re relaxing around the table. You’re eating, you’re laughing, and you’re talking about the day.”
That’s something that makes the Wednesday gathering different from Sunday morning.
“On Wednesday night when you start it around the table you are getting to see people and hear their life story of the week,” Stancil said. “Isn’t that what Jesus did? He wanted to hear people’s life stories and he wanted to share in their life, and that is what’s so wonderful about Wednesday night, that we can build that relationship over our life stories.”
At Wake Forest Presbyterian Church, 170 people or so sit down for Wednesday supper. Mandy Duguid, a caterer, church member and church staffer, leads up the team that does everything from prep work to cooking to serving to cleanup.
“It is definitely an undertaking, but it is worth it,” Duguid said. “The fellowship time together is really sort of that glue that brings everybody together and a chance to just sort of meet midweek and relax and have a meal prepared for them that they don’t have to think about.”
Duguid said her most requested Wednesday night dish is the parmesan-encrusted chicken, but other crowd favorites are the brisket and chicken marsala. Each meal always features a unique salad filled with rich, dark greens and a variety of fresh ingredients.
For Duguid, setting this table is a labor of love.
“I grew up where everything seemed to be centered around a meal and that is what brought us all together,” she said. “It was a conversation point and it was fellowship. For me it’s a true passion to be able to provide something for everybody to come and enjoy and sit back. And they do, they say it’s nice to not to have to think about the meal and that for one night of the week they can just come and relax and that’s what I hope I give them – an opportunity to be with their church family.”
In addition to the meal, Wake Forest Presbyterian also offers a slate of activities for Wednesday night participants. Adult and children choirs practice, middle school and high school students break into their own groups, four different adult Bible studies are underway, and there are meetings of Divorce Care and GriefShare support groups.
At Millbrook United Methodist Church, the Wednesday program is named 1712 East, which is the physical address of the church on Millbrook Road. Children participate in singing and bell chimes, youth get together to discuss current events from a faith perspective, and there are multiple options for adults ranging from Bible studies to courses on living life well.
“Given that the church has multiple worship services, the Wednesday program also offers opportunities for members from different services to connect to each other,” said Mike Frese, senior pastor at Millbrook UMC. “The Wednesday night program is as important relationally as it is theologically for the church.”
And at Millbrook United Methodist, and so many other churches, relationships come together during the Wednesday evening meal.
“Throughout the Bible, hospitality is considered both a sacred responsibility and an opportunity for blessing,” Frese said. “To be present at a common table creates a sense of family, which is what the church is called to be. Given that Christianity at its best is about a whole life lived in connection with God and love of neighbor, I would say the food component plays a crucial theological role in embodying the ideal of a community of care and sustenance centered in God.”