At about this time last year, we began the practice of opening our home to others on Friday evenings. We called it Friday Night Dinners, and the premise was simple: anyone and everyone who knew us was welcome to share a meal with us. We would provide the main course; we asked those who came to bring a side dish or a beverage or a dessert, and encouraged them to invite a friend.
We extended the invitation via Facebook, primarily, as well as by word of mouth. Our dining room was often full last fall, full of friends and conversation and food, and it was a good and beautiful thing.
But then the holidays came and after that a dry spell in January and a spotty spring and an on-again off-again summer, and here we are again in the autumn months, except this time, attendance is sparse. This isn’t to say it hasn’t been enjoyable, still; we’ve cherished the conversations we’ve had and the people who have joined us, even when there are several empty chairs around the table. Somehow, though, attendance has dwindled and excitement (at least among those who live close enough to come) has waned.
This isn’t to say numbers are everything, because, of course they aren’t. Smaller, more intimate gatherings often foster deeper conversations than their larger counterparts. And yet, there have been weeks when nobody shows up, or where we call a few friends last-minute saying, “Come! We have food and no-one here to share it with us,” and it has felt more like pulling teeth than building community.
(Note: I don’t mean this as complaint. Many people have expressed an appreciation for the idea behind Friday Night Dinners, but I realize that logistics can be more difficult. Socializing at the end of the week can be difficult. There may be something we’re doing – invitation, or food choice, or some other factor – that’s keeping others from coming. We know a lot of introverts, who may not like the idea of a dinner party where the guest list is uncertain. Life gets busy. I understand all of these things, and am not looking to assign blame.)
So we find ourselves at a bit of a crossroads, here, wondering whether this is something we should continue to do or not. While worthwhile pursuits often encounter resistance and difficulty, while building community and extending hospitality often take time, there’s also something to be said for recognizing when the thing you’re doing just isn’t working, when the grand idea that worked for others may require tweaking or changing or throwing out completely in favor of something else if it is to work for you and your circle of influence.
The purposes behind Friday Night Dinners – building community and extending hospitality – are still very important to us, and so, even if the dinners themselves go away, we will search for other, more effective ways to incorporate those values into our day-to-day life. Perhaps, though, it is time to take a break, to reevaluate, to find something that works for us and for this town, these people.
Whatever the future holds, whether we nix our dinners or not, this is what we want to say as a family: our home is open to you. You matter. Come, do life with us. We are better together.