It’s the moment I delight in most at a dinner party. It’s the lean back in your seat, completely satisfied (or maybe too full) moment. It’s the pregnant pause, dishes spread across the table with only scraps of food remaining moment. It’s the late in the evening with no place to go moment. Friends–new and old–linger around the table in conversation and laughter and attention to one another. Stomachs are full. Life feels unhurried. Conversations keep going. Connections are made. This is Sobremesa.
A quick search for the definition of Sobremesa might lead you to believe it is merely “the after dinner activities period” or even “dessert.” But it is so much more. The word has no direct English translation. Which, in our fast-paced, efficient culture, doesn’t surprise me. It is the space between things. It’s unhurried. It’s marginal space. Liminal space. Holy space.
As a church planter I have been thinking a lot about programs and events lately. Even in a missional community model of church planting, having events and programs can be extremely helpful, even critical, in building momentum towards reproducing mid-size communities. But there is reason to be cautious.
Events and programs often bring a culture with them, which may or may not reinforce the culture of your church. Our desire is that those who experience our church community have a sense of belonging and connection with God and God’s people. That’s the culture we want to create.Our desire is that those who experience our church community have a sense of belonging and connection with God and God’s people - Becky Lahna Click To Tweet
I think this happens, profoundly so, in Sobremesa moments. That’s why we have been trying to create Sobremesa moments within the planned structures of the church. And we are learning a lot! Here are two things to consider to help foster Sobremesa moments in your church.
You Have To Plan For It
I get it! People are busy. Lives are hurried and frenetic. Getting people to show up is difficult in and of itself. Your “thing” is competing with all the other possible “things” people could do. So, most of the time, people will be present without being fully present.
I have learned that if no one has to go anywhere or do anything they will likely have unplanned, unstructured conversations which foster deep connection. “That’s impossible!” you say. I never said it would be easy. These moments have to be planned for. And it is often costly for people. But the benefits outweigh the cost.
A few months ago we planned a weekend camping trip for the church. We booked 4 campsites right next to each other at a campground not too far out of town. And it was a good thing we were so close to town because the weather turned really bad and we ended up packing up and leaving the campground; moving our camping trip indoors.
My favorite moment was Sunday morning. Even though we had all slept the night before in our own beds in our own homes, we regrouped at my place for a slow, relaxed breakfast and time of worship together. No one had anywhere to go because we had planned to be away. We lingered with full bellies in the comfort of my living room and had a Sobremesa moment. We all agreed to make the camping trip a tradition.
Twice a year I invite everyone from our community to participate in a day-long retreat. We gather and carpool to a Catholic retreat center or a local beach park together, which means no one gets to check out early. We stick to the 8 to 4 timeline. It’s free so the only cost is childcare for parents.
They bring a lunch, journal, Bible and a beach chair. And they surrender their phones. I assure them that I will keep an eye on them and get it to them if it’s an emergency. The first part of the retreat is spent alone and silent. Then we break the silence and spend time in community. No interruptions. Just time spent in community. These final moments of the retreat feel like Sobremesa moments.
Do you plan for marginal, unhurried times for your community? What might you do to add these kind of moments to programs and events you already do?
You Have To Make Space For It
Physical space can work for or against Sobremesa in profound ways. And the message of expectations in that place is being communicated in subtle, often unconscious ways.
When you enter a space you can “feel” what is supposed to happen there. For example, people will be more likely to linger if they are comfortable. Comfortable chairs send a message that we want you to stay a while so we have provided a chair that suits your long-term sitting. I have been to about a hundred weddings. I can usually tell how long I will be there based on the chair to people ratio. If a chair is provided for every guest, I know that this is going to be a longer event. It communicates something. If standing is involved, we instinctively know that it is okay to leave at any time.
As a church plant one of our challenges is that we do not have permanent space so we have had to get creative to make space for Sobremesa moments. I looked around to see what we did have and realized that an incredible resource was already at my disposal. I live in an apartment community that has fire pits and a hot tub. Sitting around a fire and hot tubbing are typically leisurely activities. I started regularly inviting people to what we call “hot tub church” after our community gatherings. It is simple. I ask them to come over and spend some unhurried time with me. Conversations continue and deeper connections are made there.
Do you have physical spaces that foster continuing conversation? How are you using them?
When I read the Gospels I imagine Jesus with his disciples in all those marginal spaces. The ones after the big events, healings and miracles. He spent time with them. He invited them into intimate friendship. They shared Sobremesa moments. I can only imagine those conversations! In that holy space they encountered Jesus and community. May it be so of our churches, too!