The sign outside the Hunterdon County landmark still says “Frenchtown United Methodist Church”, the home of one of the area’s oldest congregations where members still gather Sunday mornings at 11 o’clock for a traditional Methodist service. But at five o’clock every Sunday evening it is transformed into “Third Street Dinner Church”, a place for active, creative worship, warm fellowship and a great meal.
“The worship experience begins at the front door”, said Pastor Peter Mantell. And “experience” is indeed the right word. Third Street Dinner Church is definitely not a spiritual spectator sport. It is meant to be highly participatory, communal and spiritually challenging. Third Streeter Leslie Stintsman has been part of the Frenchtown United Methodist Church community for more than 60 years. She says the atmosphere is quite different from the usual church setting, as it should be. She especially appreciates the relaxed, inclusive family atmosphere, the fine food and the conversational nature of the message which allows everyone to feel welcome and included.
Those in attendance not only enjoy a creative vegetarian dinner, they help prepare it. A recent menu included fried green tomatoes, quinoa and asparagus salad, butternut squash and freshly picked apples. No one is left out of the worship process, children as young as two years old participate in preparing the meal. Even clean-up following the meal is a shared ritual.
Pastor Jessica Stenstrom, who serves the Sergeantsville United Methodist Church, is an enthusiastic supporter of Third Street Dinner Church.
“There are so many stories of meals Jesus shared with the disciples, tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners and outcasts. Community is formed as we cook together, worship together and clean up together. As a parent of a toddler, I love how intergenerational the community we form is. There is a space for everyone.”
Pastor Peter says he was inspired by St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in Brooklyn, NY and felt the format was a natural for Frenchtown’s highly diverse, inclusive and spiritually pluralistic community. He began working with his congregation on the idea last spring. It became a reality in September with much dedication and hard work by the pastor, his family and the congregation at Frenchtown UMC. He said “People here are looking for a new worship experience which welcomes everyone, one that is non-threatening, non-judgmental.” He describes the worship style as informal, peaceful, contemplative, yet still challenging and thought-provoking. “We want to get people out of their religious comfort zone for a while”, said Pastor Peter. And he knows a little something about leaving one’s comfort zone. The New Jersey native spent some 30 years in the corporate world before following God’s call into ministry. He currently serves Kingwood and Frenchtown United Methodist Churches as well as Third Street and is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at Drew University’s Theological School. Peter and his wife Anna have been married 28 years and have three daughters.
Pastor Peter added that one does not necessarily need to have a Christian background to participate and be blessed by the highly spiritual, communal Third Street experience. All are welcome to share in the creative cuisine, diverse, soothing a cappella music, contemplative prayer, Scripture lessons and thought-provoking conversation.
Third Street Dinner Church’s website is currently in development, but for more information contact Pastor Peter Mantell, Third Street Dinner Church, 16 Third Street, Frenchtown, NJ 08825 (908) 996-3117, or you can find them on Facebook.