Sharing Family Meals and Saying Grace
The evidence is pretty much incontrovertible: eating dinner together on a regular basis is one of the best ways to strengthen family ties. Benefits include better communication among family members, better performance at school and overall adjustment for children, and better nutrition for everyone. Little wonder that experts on faith formation point first to family meals when they talk about how congregations can help families bring their faith home. Indeed, bringing the Unitarian Universalist faith home to the dinner table takes only a couple of simple acts—lighting a chalice and saying a grace drawn from one of our sources. And families wanting to go deeper can add conversations on liberal religious themes to their mealtime ritual. Here are some ways congregations can help UU families put faith on their dinnertime menu.
Almost every religion has at least one symbol to represent itself. Jews have the Star of David and the Menorah; Christians have the Cross and the Ichthys (or “Jesus fish”); Muslims have the Star and Crescent, Buddhists have the Dharma Wheel. And, obviously, Unitarian Universalists have the Flaming Chalice. The first thing congregations can do to encourage families to light a chalice at dinnertime is to make sure they understand its history and significance. This can be done in a variety of ways. There can be a section on the Flaming Chalice during new member classes; children and youth can learn about it as part of the religious education curricula; and the congregation’s website can include a page on why the Flaming Chalice is a symbol for Unitarian Universalism.
The Unitarian Universalist Association is developing an ever-increasing number of resources to help families bring UU rituals and traditions into the home. Indeed, almost every family can now find a dinnertime grace that’s bound to suit their theological orientation, be it Humanist, Theist, Christian, Jewish, Pagan, or just plain Unitarian Universalist. Of course, it really doesn’t matter what’s said. The important thing is to say something. To quote Christian mystic Meister Eckhart, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” And if a Unitarian Universalist family gets in the habit of saying a grace drawn from one of our sources? It, too, will be enough…or at least a very good place to start.
The time shared during regular meals around the family table is the perfect place to engage in another important practice: caring conversations. While it may seem like a tall order to both gather the family for a shared meal and get kids to talk about their day, it’s not impossible. There are a variety of “conversation starters” available for families to use at the dinner table. Congregations can help by offering families a Unitarian Universalist mealtime question of the week to talk about during dinner.
Not every family is in the habit of sharing meals together most evenings. Not only do they need to find the time in their busy (and often conflicting schedules) to sit down together at the table, someone has to actually prepare a (hopefully) healthy and tasty meal. The good news is that the internet is teeming with quick and easy recipes. Some congregations help out by offering a recipe exchange on their website, a place where families can share the quick and easy meals that work for them.
Resources for Family Meals
Another great chalice making guide comes from the Church of the Larger Fellowship: Make a Handmade Family Chalice.
The Winter 2009 issue of Families Weaves a Tapestry of Faith [PDF] has a section on “Table Graces from Our Sources,” including the one my family uses everyday!
In addition to bedtime prayers, both A Child’s Book of Blessings and Prayers and Sunday and Everyday: My Little Book of Unitarian Universalism have a number of table graces. Both are available from the UUA Bookstore.
For ideas on helping families with dinnertime conversation starters, see my earlier post on Caring Conversations.
Use recipes from these sources to get started, then ask families to share their favorite recipes for simple family meals.