GOWANUS — A church where parishioners feed their souls with Scripture while filling their bellies with food is moving into a Gowanus storefront.
St. Lydia's dinner church will set up shop this spring at 304 Bond St., just as soon as they finish renovating the most important part of their new space: the kitchen.
Cooking is at the heart of St. Lydia's, which is affiliated with a progressive branch of Lutheranism called the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Instead of holding services in a house of worship where parishioners sit in pews, St. Lydia's members convene around the dinner table twice a week.
"The idea is to create a space that’s as open as possible to explore the Christian tradition from a progressive standpoint," said pastor Emily Scott, a 33-year-old ordained minister who graduated from Yale Divinity School.
St. Lydia's worshipers cook the meal together, then sing a song and light candles as they sit down at the table. The dinner starts off with a prayer and blessing of the bread, then people chat and eat. Next they read Scripture chosen by Scott, who then gives a "short, informal" sermon. After prayers, a shared poem, and "the blessing of the cup," the group cleans up together.
"The fact that we’re getting together and eating sets an understanding that we're first and foremost a community," Scott said. "It takes the emphasis off the dogma and rules of religion, and it starts with something basic, which is what Jesus did, which was share meals with people."
All the meals at St. Lydia's are vegetarian, and they're served by candlelight at tables decorated with simple flower bouquets. Scott describes the atmosphere as similar to visiting a friend's house for Thanksgiving.
The church started "in someone's living room" five years ago in Manhattan, Scott said, and has been renting space twice a week at the Brooklyn Zen Center on Carroll Street off Third Avenue for the past two years.
With its own storefront, Scott hopes to build St. Lydia's into a "center for thinking about theology and spirituality in Brooklyn" that could host lectures and concerts. Scott says her mission is to create a welcoming atmosphere, especially for the gay, lesbian and transgender community.
Recent sermons by Scott have touched on how the story of Hagar from the Book of Genesis relates to violence against women, the anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and lessons from the book "Stuck in the Middle With You," about a transgender parent.
"Christianity has a bad reputation these days," Scott said. "Our community is trying to learn how to be a progressive voice in the city and be a community that's about love and not hatred, and about breaking down boundaries, not putting up walls."