Slow Food, Slow Church

This post was written by Anastasia and John McAteer.

The Slow Food movement is a worldwide phenomenon, kicked off by the introduction of a McDonald’s into the ancient city of Rome. Begun as one man’s struggle against the implications of capitalist, American fast food, the Slow Movement has come to mean, in shorthand, an approach to life focused on quality, health, sustainability, tradition, DIY, justice, and beauty. It resists the “McDonaldization” of society (or the “Walmarting of America” or the “Coca-Colonization of the World” – pick your symbolic corporate villain). In contrast to a fast food nation that values speed, efficiency, and cost above all else, the Slow Food movement promotes food that is “good, clean and fair”.

The fundamental conviction of Slow Food is that these three core values are linked: sustainably farmed and fairly traded food may take more time and money to produce, but it tastes better. The life of justice, health, and quality is more beautiful than the life in pursuit of a fast buck. Slow Food pushes back against the values of corporate culture. When indulging in fast and cheap food (or anything else), you don’t want to think about where it comes from, how it got to you, how the people and animals involved were treated, what its production did to the earth… and you don’t even really want to think about how it tastes, and certainly not what might be in it. In other words, living Fast is the opposite of living mindfully, and mindfulness is what the Slow Movement seeks, at its heart, to encourage.

Slow Church, then, means to be Church mindfully. It’s not about speed, necessarily; but to really think through what you’re doing and why you’re doing it will take time. And it isn’t only leaders who need space for thought: particularly in the act of worship, participants need open places for pondering: what am I doing? Where have we been, and where are we going, in this hour, this season, this year?

In worship planning, one area in which we can be more mindfully Slow is in how we connect to the past. If ritual seems irredeemably boring or lacking in spontaneity, the solution is not to be impulsive, but rather more aware of what liturgy means. Learn where liturgy comes from – read the source materials (the original recipes, as it were), and see how they have evolved over time. Picasso could not change art until he knew how to draw. A slow worship leader bathes herself in the traditions of the past so that she can shape the future of her community’s experience with God.

Another area to Slow in is how we connect to the world: specifically, the impact of our choices on others. What would it look like to be a truly sustainable church? Ethical in business dealings, human relations, finances? Humane in the use of and procuring resources, from paper to power to coffee and donuts?

To be Slow is to be intensely local, respecting the context in which you find yourself. In church, this means raising worship leaders from within. It means following the recipe of the liturgy, but adding your local tastes. It means doing life together – savoring moments with God as a group. Slow Foodies don’t eat alone; Slow Churches don’t worship alone.

To be Slow means to value small family owned businesses over multinational corporations; so, we would reject franchised churches with satellite piped-in sermons and instead seek to be parishes with persons living in and serving the neighborhood. Worship should not be made available in prepackaged portions. The same songs shouldn’t necessarily be sung in every church (at least not in the same way). To be able to go to any church and expect the exact same “program” is just like visiting any McDonalds in the world, knowing you’ll get the same tasteless “food-like substances” (Michael Pollan’s word for a thing that purports to be food but isn’t actually grown or raised, rather it is invented.) To hire professionals to make it slick, only performing songs from the radio, all written by one or two bands (for their context, mind you); to pass out tasteless crackers and syrupy juice and call it bread and wine; to touch an infant’s head with a drop of water and claim that he has been buried in the waters of baptism… all of these are efficient, fast, and easy, and lack mindful energy.

To do “homemade worship”, think of the liturgy as your recipe: it is the foundation to which you will add your local flavors and techniques. You can’t change the fundamentals of a recipe or you won’t get the correct end result; but still the same dish will taste very different depending on the types of ingredients used, the location in which its cooked, the tools used to prepare it, and even the personal style and preferences of the chef. In fact, in addition to thinking of ourselves as worship curators, perhaps we should dub ourselves worship chefs!

The Slow Church movement rejects a capitalist approach to church, whose values are bigger (more numbers), faster (emphasis on conversion, “saving” people), and efficient (pray a prayer and you’re done). Just like raising a crop, growing a Christian is not an efficient process. It takes time, energy, and a lot of hard work. It’s a long-term commitment. You can be a factory farmer in your church, but the quality of your harvest is going to suffer. Why not raise heirloom varietals instead? Sure, they’re fussy and labor intensive, and not nearly as big or numerous as their mass-produced counterparts; but they are also richer, more connected to their roots, and more truly and fully represent what they were created to be.

© Anastasia and John McAteer

Image © iStockphoto


Anastasia McAteer is a freelance writer and liturgical consultant. She holds a Master of Divinity with a concentration in Worship, Theology and the Arts from Fuller Theological Seminary, and has done doctoral work in Liturgical Studies at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. She authored the popular blog Feminary while at Fuller. Stasi has also written a variety of worship resources for local use and national publications including a reader’s theater version of the Book of Revelation. Her essay “Exorcising the Spirit” is included in Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical (Cascade Books, 2009). Stasi’s children, Maggie and Kieran, help her fulfill her priestly calling on a daily basis.

John McAteer is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University. He has a B.A. in Film, an M.A. in Theology, and a Ph.D. in Philosophy. He co-curated the forthcoming Lent Collection for Clayfire with his wife Stasi. John blogs at filmphilosopher.wordpress.com.

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Anastasia McAteer

About Anastasia McAteer

Anastasia McAteer is a freelance writer and liturgical consultant. She holds a Master of Divinity with a concentration in Worship, Theology and the Arts from Fuller Theological Seminary, and has done doctoral work in Liturgical Studies at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. She authored the popular blog Feminary while at Fuller. Stasi has also written a variety of worship resources for local use and national publications. Her essay “Exorcising the Spirit” is included in Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical (Cascade Books, 2009). Stasi is married to John and their two children, Maggie and Kieran, help her fulfill her priestly calling on a daily basis.

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