Canadian viewers of the Grammy Awards on Feb 12/17 were gushing over an ad called “Eat Together,” produced by President’s Choice, a brand owned by Loblaws, Canada’s largest food retailer. But more regular TV-watchers saw the same commercial aired numerous times during the Christmas season. At a time when lots of Canadians sit down to meals with family and friends, that are often surrounded by warm-fuzzy feelings, PC gave us an advert about people sitting down to a meal with family and friends, surrounded by warm-fuzzy feelings.

The warm-fuzzies were aided by a great version of the syrupy Burt Bacharach and Hall David song, “What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love” sung by Walk Off the Earth’s Sarah Blackwood. The tag line at the end of the ad, on a white screen says: “crave more.”

The ‘tweets’ after seeing the ad on the Grammys were quite evocative:

The ad is simple. A woman comes home tired at the end of the workday. She sees way too many people on their phones and other screens, making no human contact. Decides to do something about it. Moves her dining table into a public space (the apartment block’s hallway) and waits for people to join her and her roommate as they eat. Slowly people start to join them – including the kid who invites the “crotchety old man.” Warm-fuzzies.

My first time watching the ad (I admit to some choked-back eye-leaking), I remember thinking, “why isn’t this an ad for somebody’s church? How does President’s Choice get to lay claim to this kind of deep-seated emotion about the way the world should be?

Why isn’t “crave more” the tagline for some faith community’s ministry vision for their neighbourhood engagement?

Why isn’t “crave more” the tagline for some faith community’s ministry vision for their neighbourhood engagement? Click To Tweet

Over Christmas I was also reading Alan Kreider’s new book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church. Kreider (who sadly passed away this week) says that “If the early church had strategies for converting people, they did not teach these or write about them.” He cites Origen (Egyptian, 185-254AD) in a Sunday sermon saying “who gathered you into the church? What goad compelled you to leave your houses and come together in this assembly? We did not go to you from house to house.”

Kreider then asks, so how did the church experience the slow and steady growth (patient ferment) that eventually turned the Roman Empire upside down?

“Scholars have seen the church’s growth as coming about through something modest: “casual contact.” Contact could come about in innumerable ways through the translocal networks of family and profession in which most people participated. Masters interacted with slaves; residents met neighbours; and above all believers networked with relatives and work colleagues. In all these relationships “affective bonds” were formed. The most reliable means of communicating the attractiveness of the faith to others and enticing them to investigate things further was the Christians’ character, bearing, and behaviour.”

The early church was birthed in cultures where hospitality toward family, neighbours and strangers was a norm. The central ritual of the Christian faith is The Lord’s Table. Early accounts of Christian community in Scripture and other writings speak of the centrality of hospitality and eating together communally. This was a key feature in the patient ferment that led, inevitably, to the growth of people identifying with the Christian faith.

Notice the connection between “warm-fuzzies” and “affective bonds”? Notice that the young woman in the ad had to leave her cocooned personal space to encounter others? Notice that she had to make a choice to lift up her head and pay attention to others? Notice that she thought human contact and social engagement was something worthy of her energies? Notice that Loblaws tapped into the fact that we are all craving something more?

I grew up in a Christian home where hospitality was the norm. We lived in small towns, big cities and rural communities – same thing in each type of culture. Tables full of people, always enough food, lots of conversation, lots of music, for hours – not in church buildings. But something has changed in Christian communities. We have to start paying attention to this again. If the young woman in the ad has figured this out (or at least the marketing department at Loblaws), why can’t we? Does it feel awkward? Yes. Should we persist and leave our sacred spaces behind, take food, tables and chairs and pay attention – wait expectantly? Crave more?