The finishing touches are being put on the tables. The buffet begins to fill up with everything from quiche to cookies. You can smell dinner cooking in the kitchen.
As folks come in, they greet each other and ask how the day has been. It’s a lot like a typical family coming home for dinner. It’s not a whole lot like typical
church. But it is church. It’s Simple Church.
“The easiest way to live in community is around the table,” said Simple Church’s founding pastor, Zach Kerzee.
Now each Thursday and two Fridays a month members of Simple Church gather for a meal and worship in rented space at the Congregational Church of Grafton (Massachusetts).
The evening begins with prayers offered by those attending, songs led by Kerzee on his guitar, and conversation. The worship always includes communion.
On this Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015, Kerzee poses the questions: What feeds you? What feeds the world? One discussion among a few at the table raises another question, which he puts to the group: What feeds God?
Kerzee was appointed to Grafton in July 2014. The United Methodist church there had closed, and the parsonage and funds remaining were going to be used for a new church start.
Fresh out of Harvard Divinity School, Kerzee got his inspiration from the potluck dinners he and other seminarians shared. The conversation and sense of community found at the dinners made him wonder: Why can’t church be like this? Why does church feel so different?
After pondering those questions, Kerzee said he knew what his new church would be like.
“It came to me in a flash,” he said. “I knew what I was called to do.”
So he spent some eight weeks knocking on doors and introducing himself and his Simple Church (which originally met in the parsonage basement). He admitted it could be awkward, but he was “willing to look funny for the Gospel” if that’s what he had to do to reach people.
And it seems he did. Some 45 people came to the first meeting on Sept. 18, 2014. Though some didn’t return, there is a core group of about that many who attend Simple Church regularly if not all at the same time.
Farm to table
The parsonage sits on some five acres next to an organic farm. Kerzee asked Jeff Backer of Potter Hill Farm to cut down the overgrowth on the property, and in return he could graze his cattle there.
Backer may have been a bit skeptical at first, Kerzee admits, but the relationship grew. Kerzee started working on the farm and Backer donated vegetables to the Simple Church meal.
The winter vegetables are stored in the parsonage basement. Kerzee grabs a couple handfuls for the meal that evening along with eggs from the nine chickens kept at the parsonage.
Standing over an enormous pot of Mexican egg drop soup (those nine chickens lay a lot of eggs) Simple Church food coordinator Carrie Deblois-Mello talks about what, besides her love of cooking, drew her to Simple Church.
“There’s so much that goes on in this for me,” said Deblois-Mello; in her family’s Italian tradition, food is an expression of love. The conversation at Simple Church is nourishing as well, she said.
It’s also a way to lead a simpler life, Deblois-Mello said. That’s something she’d been seeking for a while, but surrounded by materialism and commercialism it can be hard to do that without community support.
“It’s easier to do with friends, people you see often,” she said. “They appreciate those values and are trying to uphold them in their own lives.”
“Simplicity is a guiding spiritual practice for me,” Kerzee said. “Scaling back your life allows you to serve others and serve God. You’re open to hear God’s voice.”
Cooking up something new
But even a Simple Church is not free, and finding ways for the community to sustain itself is part of Kerzee’s goal. The most recent idea: Bake and sell bread.
From whole grain boules to braided loaves and a “Nutella Star Bread,” Kerzee now bakes bread each week. He taught himself with a recipe he found on
YouTube. He’s been baking every week for about four months.
Much like working on the farm, baking was something Kerzee didn’t realize he could to until he tried it.
“It’s really grounding,” he said. “You can’t rush. I try to do it prayerfully, thinking about the people who will eat it.”
And it has made “the resounding metaphor” of Jesus as the bread of life “come to life for me,” he said.
On this Thursday, he talked about Ezekiel bread and about how the ingredients come together to form a loaf of bread in same way those around the table come together as the body of Christ.
As of March 4, 2015, the kitchen had passed inspection, so Simple Church will soon be able to sell its Simple Bread to the public. To start, the bread will be available at a Monday Farmers market and the Grafton Country Store. Kerzee plans to be at the store on March 15 and at the farmers market the next day.
There will also be an option to purchase Simple Bread for communion services and have it shipped to them. The web address is simpleumc.com/bread, and should be up and running soon.
Kerzee said that Simple Church is also planning to give a monthly tithe of bread to a church for the homeless in Worcester, MA, to use for its sandwich ministry.
“I’ve been searching for a way to have Simple Church involved in hunger relief, and I think this is the perfect way to do that,” Kerzee said.
Though he may be doing something new, ultimately, Kerzee is returning to a practice of John Wesley’s: reaching out to those left out by the parish system. With Kerzee as a guide, the worship is made comfortable for those who may not be familiar with the rituals and practice of traditional worship.
“I want to recapture that radical spirit,” he said, and return to a time “when Christian education was the whole movement.”