Everyone brings what they have, everyone goes home fed.
Rob Parsons recalls the story of Stone Soup (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone_Soup) in the name of an afternoon worship ministry out of Saluda United Methodist Church, which he pastors along with Columbus United Methodist.
Rob and I were classmates at Yale Divinity School, and when I learned he was in the area, I looked him up for the first time in 27 years because I had heard from Lance Smith, former Associate Pastor here at The Congregational Church in Tryon, that the two of them had collaborated on some really creative ministry, both in their churches and in the wider community.
Rob’s district superintendent says a pastor should be spending 10-15% of their time in doing things that don’t directly benefit their church. An Orlando, FL, native who had ancestral roots in Saluda, Rob has been pastor of the Saluda-Columbus charge since 2008, but he and his family have been living in Saluda since 2000. He’s become the Polk County community’s pastor, or at least one of them. The number of people he greeted by name before we even ordered coffee was testament to that.
Stone Soup is itinerant, in that it moves around from site to site: sometimes it’s taking Communion to a homebound person—not just by the pastor, but by the whole group—and it becomes a celebration of community, not just the administration of a sacrament. Sometimes it’s blueberry picking out in the wilds of the Blue Ridge, and a blueberry pancake Love Feast with the pickings. It might be a service of letting go of certain personal things from the past year in preparation for beginning a new year. It’s Christmas caroling, contra dancing, even Ultimate Frisbee following reflection on the day’s biblical readings!
The overriding sense one gets as Rob describes Stone Soup is “laid back.” And this was the topic of much of our conversation about faith, spirituality, and the church the morning we met at Open Road Coffee. We went to seminary together, and we share a sense that church needs to be both more, and less, than the institution and what I call the Religious Industry lends itself to.
MORE than church as usual, in the usual building at the usual time, with the usual form of a worship service, with the accepted ways of bringing people together, often highly scripted, very wordy, and usually busy—very busy.
More creative, even experimental; more hospitable to people who aren’t used to church; more daring, more compassionate, more open to other ways of knowing God and one another.
But “more than” often consists in LESS than: less high-stakes, less busy; less bound by traditional (think buildings) yet rooted in the best parts of the tradition (think openness, welcome, scripture, silence, baptism, communion).
He recommends books like Grounded by Diana Butler Bass and Krista Tippet’s Becoming Wise, draws, as I do, on our common experience with Letty Russell, the late feminist theologian at Yale, and her vision of a Welcome Table at which all are fed, and of partnership with God and one another.
Stone Soup is only part of Rob’s ministry at Columbus and Saluda. In a later post I will tell you about his work with Congregations for Children. But check out the Stone Soup Blog at http://saludastonesoup.blogspot.com/, and the Saluda church Facebook page for an idea of what this is all about.