“Just do it,” my friend said. “You’ll be glad you did.”
We were talking about her family’s commitment to gathering on Sunday evenings for dinner. I told her my husband and I had been wanting to start hosting Sunday dinners for our extended family. We wanted to be more intentional about being with family on a regular basis, but we wondered what such a commitment might require of us and whether anyone would be willing to come regularly. I had more than once overheard people say, “I have to go to my aunt/sister/grandmother/mother’s house for Sunday dinner,” in a less than enthusiastic tone. I didn’t want to be that relative.
Why Extended Family Sunday Dinners Matter
My friend is a mother and a judge with a full schedule, and at the time of our conversation, she lived in an apartment with limited space. Yet, she and her children hosted her extended family every Sunday. I could see her happiness and imagined the joy her gatherings gave her family. As I sat with my fearful complaints, her love in action inspired me and echoed scripture, “Be hospitable to one another without complaining” (1 Peter 4:8-9).
My husband and I had a pondering on our hearts, a home to open, food to share and, it seemed, a clear directive.
Shortly after that conversation, we sent an e-mail invitation to our extended family to invite them to regular Sunday dinners at our home. They came. All of them. Now, three years later, they still come. They often bring their dogs. Sometimes they bring friends, honoring our invitation to bring anyone who would enjoy sharing a meal and spending a Sunday evening with others who would love to know them.
The simple act of extending an invitation for dinner has grown into a blessing of being together. Keeping it simple has been the heartbeat that keeps it going.
From the beginning, my husband and I didn’t want anyone to feel pressure to be together every Sunday, including ourselves. We couldn’t commit to hosting every week due to our children’s schedules and other things that call for our time, and we didn’t want anyone else to feel pressure to be there. It was only an invitation.
But we committed to hosting each Sunday we were available. We believed a regular commitment would be important for planning and maintaining connections. Those absent are missed, but another Sunday will come. We trust the Lord places those at our table who are meant to be there at that time.We trust the Lord places those at our table who are meant to be there at that time. #BISblog // Click To Tweet
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What Our Dinners Look Like
Everyone comes as they are. We hope for dinners that are relaxed, casual, and fun. Sports uniforms, church clothes, pajamas, pool attire, and everything in between have made appearances at our dinners. The most important thing is to feel comfortable and be present. We’d rather have someone in a work uniform or stinky sports gear and with us than somewhere else without us.
My crock pot is a loyal friend for these dinners because it allows me to complete most of the food preparation before anyone arrives. The important thing is to be together, not to have perfect food.
My charcuterie board is also a good friend because it makes almost any random food item you put on it look like it belongs there, from meats and cheeses to nuts, fruits and crackers. It doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive.
Our family has a food budget, and by the grace of God, our budget has remained the same as it was before we began these dinners. I cannot explain that, but I am grateful.
We don’t serve steaks at these dinners, but we’ve filled many with taco bars, BBQ pulled pork, spaghetti with meatballs, and large pots of soups and chili. Many come through our front door with food to share, and that is a tremendous blessing. However, we don’t want anyone to feel that presents of food would be more important than one’s presence.
We don’t always know how many people will come. I appreciate RSVPs, but we’d rather have someone unexpected with us, eating from the bottom of the serving platters or a delivery pizza we order last minute, than not with us because they didn’t RSVP. To this date, the Lord has provided enough food for every dinner, even when the numbers have far exceeded my expectations. Like the manna God gave the Israelites in the wilderness and the bread and fish Jesus fed the crowd of 5,000, our provisions are sufficient through Him. And, I have the pizza delivery number on my fridge just in case.
Our house is never in perfect condition, but Sunday dinners inspire us to clean when we might otherwise not. For transparency, my husband is much more willing to clean than I am, and I am the one who needs inspiration (e.g. people are coming over). I am embarrassed to admit that I apparently don’t consider the five others who live in my home to be people worthy of regular cleaning, and I am working on that.
For Sunday dinners, we do our best to declutter, clean, and offer at least one presentable bathroom. When everyone is focused on being together and sharing a meal, they are less likely to notice the dirt on the floor and more willing to overlook it.
A blessing of these gatherings is the time they give us to be together and share our lives. My husband’s parents and two sisters and their families live near us. His parents are our most regular guests. Thanks to them, we always have three generations of people together.
Our nieces and nephews who attend nearby colleges come when they can and welcome us into their lives by bringing friends.
We’ve invited neighbors, friends from all walks of our life, priests, seminarians, deacons, and young adults we’ve met through ministries and our parish. It is not us who provide the joy; the joy comes through our front door with each person.
We celebrate together the seasons of life and our Church. When weather allows, we spend our evenings outside making s’mores and walking the dogs. In winter, we gather inside with a fire, spilling into the various rooms of our home, eating wherever a seat may be found.
We’ve celebrated happy moments, shared conversations about struggles and sorrows, and linked hands in a large circle of prayer, thanking the Lord for all of it. It is a boost of peace and joy for the week ahead.
You Won’t Regret It
If you’ve been considering gathering people to your home for a standing date for dinner, brunch, coffee, wine or any other type of sharing, I pass along my friend’s advice to “just do it.” You’ll be glad you did.Starting Extended Family Sunday Dinners #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Nikki Frerker is a wife and mother of four who lives in Leawood, Kansas. She spends a portion of her time practicing estate planning law and enjoys serving as a catechist for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at her parish. You may find her running before the sun rises, driving her children around at all hours, or singing praise music just loud enough to embarrass anyone willing to listen.