Prayer and worship has been offered at St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside, for over 900 years. Whilst the church has been destroyed twice (in the Great Fire of London and the Blitz), the Medieval crypt survives and, in recent years, has become home to Café Below; a splendid restaurant offering wholesome food to City workers from surrounding businesses. It was this candlelit crypt that provided the auspicious venue for a Sion College Seminar Supper on the question of whether eating is a Christian vocation.
During the course of a delicious vegetarian meal (it was Lent after all), the speaker, Dr David Grumett, entertained those gathered with a varied talk on the history and theology of food in the Christian tradition. Asking what food has to do with theology, Dr Grumett noted that food is at the heart of the Christian tradition: not just in the centrality of our worship in the Eucharist, but also the part that eating and drinking plays in the Gospel; indeed he quipped that were it not for the small food business the Gospel would not have been spread, for at least seven of the Apostles were fishermen! Clearly food is also much in the public mind at present, around questions of the environment (pollution and sustainability) and health. In attempting to build a bridge between the theology of food in the Christian tradition and public concerns, Dr Grumett took the listeners through a history of what the Christian tradition has to say on how we treat animals, and the fact that up until the 1660s Lenten abstinence (from meat and dairy) was legally mandated; indeed abstinence was required on Wednesdays, Fridays and other days throughout the year.
The speaker argued that we should recover something of our Christian tradition as regards food, around the promotion of local eating, abstinence which can encourage social levelling and equality, and finally in noting that the intrinsically relational nature of the Eucharist speaks to society about the importance of the settled community working together in a co-operative manner for the production, distribution and consumption of food. Lively questions and discussion followed, before the evening concluded with those departing feeling satisfied by both food of the body and food of the mind.