What’s a Salon?

I thought a salon was a place one went to have their hair “done” or to get a pedicure. Only recently did I learn that salon originally referred to an important place for the exchange of ideas. According to wikipedia.org, a salon, commonly associated with the French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th and 18th centuries, is a gathering of people in someone’s home for the purpose of education and enjoyment. Salon is thus the perfect name for adult conversational gatherings in private homes.

Our 21st century world continues to morph at warp speed technologically, environmentally, economically, and politically. So too the American religious and spiritual landscape is shifting — not a little, but seismically. For some of us, this change can be frightening, and we take refuge in the familiar rituals and historical doctrines of the church. For others, the shifts are both challenging and freeing. Those in this second category need opportunities to struggle openly with uncertainties and evolving beliefs. Salons provide hospitable space for fellowship and a safe sanctuary for the exchange of ideas and theologies.

At each salon an interesting or challenging topic is presented and opened up for reflection and conversation. The setting is informal with light refreshments such as wine and cheese. At Westminster, we publicize a new salon about every six to eight weeks. We have discovered that 10 is a great number of people for easy conversation. However, the salons are popular and we often have as many as 20 sign up. On those occasions, we introduce the topic to the whole group and then divide into smaller groups to talk. After about 45 minutes to an hour, we come back together to share insights.

Topics for salons are meant to stretch us and make us think. One evening we talked about prayer and used the following questions: “How do you define prayer? How has the idea of prayer changed or evolved for you? What experiences have you had with other styles of prayer that you’ve found meaningful?” Another time we talked about our images of God and how those images have evolved.

Back in the spring our topic was about moral decision making–that is, how people make moral choices and the difference between morality and ethics. At that salon, a Jewish friend of the host was invited, and he thoroughly enjoyed the casual format for talking about deep topics. Out of that experience, we planned a joint salon with his conservative synagogue. We met in a Jewish home, and about 12 Christians and 12 Jews participated. We discussed the role religion plays in our lives – a simple yet profound topic, that sparked stimulating and meaningful conversation.

Susan Moseley, D.Ed.Min.
Church Educator
Westminster Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, Delaware

3 thoughts on “What’s a Salon?

  1. Susan Moseley says:

    Hi Linda, thanks for your questions. I usually moderate the large group just to start the conversation and to make sure no one dominates, but when we break into small groups, they are on their own. I use a quote, a paragraph from a book, or a video clip to open up the topic, but that is the only prep. What makes the salon different from other adult small groups connected to the church is that there is no agenda — only the free exchange of ideas. There are not many places where we have the time, the safe space and a relaxed atmosphere to try out our thoughts on a subject and to hear others’ thoughts without judgement or defensiveness.


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