Warm Bread and Good Conversation- A Recipe for Simple Church
By: Sherri Gragg
The TAC sent LyAnna Johnson to New England to plant the second branch of Simple Church seven months ago. We caught up with her by phone for an interview to see how things are progressing.
Simple Church began with a question- “What if?”
What if we stripped church down to its most basic form? Get rid of the building. Shelve the programs. Whittle the budget down to bare bones.
What would be left?
Teaching, of course, but our communities of faith are also about the relationships we build with each other so…good conversation is a must. Simple Church founder, Rev. Zach Kerzee, thought back to where those two elements were the most purely present in his own life, and remembered the Thursday night potlucks he and his fellow students had when he was in divinity school. Kerzee felt there was something special about gathering Christ seekers around a dinner table. Jesus certainly seemed to think so too. It was around the dinner table that Christ ministered to those who didn’t feel welcome in the local synagogue. What if Kerzee began a church that followed His example? And that is just what he did. In 2014, the Harvard-Divinity School graduate and lifelong-Methodist from Texas founded the first Simple Church in Grafton, Massachusetts.
The TAC and Simple Church
In October of 2017, Perkins School of Theology graduate and member of the Texas Annual Conference, Pastor LyAnna Johnson, began the second branch of Simple Church in Worcester, MA as a TAC church plant.
Johnson’s very last class in seminary was a church planting course. It was there that she first heard about Simple Church. Six months later, she discovered Kerzee was doing a nation-wide search for someone to begin a second branch of Simple Church in Worcester, MA. “When I was offered the position, the Texas Annual Conference graciously allowed me to accept it. I am very grateful,” Johnson said.
The Worcester branch of Simple Church is guided by the same values as the original church plant. Johnson keeps costs as low as possible and adheres to a monastic fundraising model. While she and Kerzee bake bread to sell at local farmer’s markets, they are also praying for their congregants and community. In addition to generating funds to meet the financial needs of Simple Church, the pastor’s presence at the farmer’s market provides an opportunity to share the love of Christ. “We are selling bread, but we are often having very pastoral conversations with people who may or may not know they are speaking with clergy,” Johnson said.
Both branches of Simple Church take place around a shared meal. After the pastors share a short sermon, attendees discuss the message while they eat. To keep costs low, the potluck meal is always accompanied by fresh bread baked by the pastors. Another central dish is a vegetable soup made from the produce the pastors earn when they work on a local organic farm. Both Kerzee and Johnson also contribute to the financial needs of their churches with a wood-fired pizza catering business and by creating engaging web-sites for other worship communities.
Hospitality as Outreach
Simple Church Worcester differs from the Grafton branch in one primary way. While Simple Church Grafton rents meeting space from another local church, the Worcester branch intentionally meets in secular space. Although Johnson treasures her traditional church upbringing, she feels God has called her to share the love of Christ with those who would otherwise shy away from church. Breaking bread with these individuals is a proven, and ancient, way to do just that.
Simple Church is, at its heart, a ministry of connection. Connection to each other through meaningful conversations of faith. Connection to God through prayerful work, honoring His creation, and loving His people. It is a ministry that dares hope that in the process of making those connections around a dinner table, that we might all draw nearer to the table of God’s grace where our souls are fed with the Bread of Life.