My earliest memories are of kitchens: my parents’ kitchen, my grandmothers’ kitchens, and my church kitchen. I can remember being placed on a high-top stool at the age of three and being tasked with whisking wet ingredients together at the counter, watching the poetic movements of beloved women and men working together to prepare a meal to nourish body and soul. The warmth of the oven paired with smiles and laughter as stories were told. People filled the room; chairs and tables were gathered, pulled together, and the table was set. As more cousins or church members arrived, more chairs would be pulled out, and folks would scrunch together so that all could sit together at the table. As bowl after bowl of delicious food was handed around the table, I felt at home, safe and loved within the open hearts of community. Through these actions of love I began to learn what it means to be a part of God’s beloved community.
My learning has continued as a pastor of a congregation devoted to the weekly ministry of feeding the hungry. A few years ago, the ministry of Open Table—a community meal on Wednesday nights—came into being out of a dream from a handful of members who wondered at Jesus’ calling of them to feed others and create a holy space for neighbors to gather together over food and pause in the busyness of daily living for a shared meal. Within weeks of the beginning of Open Table community neighbors and congregational members were breaking bread together, and this ministry became a cornerstone of our congregational mission. Relationships were being formed; it was beautiful to see.
Yes, it is about feeding those with physical hunger, but it is also about meeting the spiritual hunger for community, for people who acknowledge that we are valuable children of God worthy of time and attention.
Pause Creates New Options and Questions
When the pandemic began this relational ministry was paused for safety reasons. With great joy we unpaused Open Table in the spring of 2021 as we resumed this community meal outdoors in our parking lot. People came back and enjoyed conversation and breaking bread underneath the shade and rustling wind of the elm trees.
As the weather grew colder this fall and the Delta variant surged, Open Table transitioned to a drive-thru. A startling revelation and silver lining appeared—folks who worked all day were now coming to pick up food to bring home to feed themselves and their families. Our ministry team has been wondering: When we’re ready to transition to in-person community meals again, is God calling us to offer both spaces of an Open Table— a drive-thru and in-person community meal?
In both ways I have been learning from my neighbors about what it means to have an open table with an open heart.
“I Can Care in This Way”
The week before Christmas an elderly man posted on our Facebook page asking if our church could deliver that night’s meal to his home as he couldn’t drive on the icy roads. Before I could even respond to his message another neighbor replied to his post, responding that she would drive to the church and pick up a meal for both of them. As she drove through that night I warmly welcomed her and thanked her for her generosity. She responded, “God uses each of us to care for one another. I can care in this way.”
She figuratively pulled up a chair to God’s Open Table for this elderly man whom she had never met before. Later that night he reposted a thank you online to this stranger who had become his neighbor.
As the weather turned cold in Minnesota, a hard core group of six members continued to set up a table and chairs and sit outside together. With their winter coats, hats and mittens, they would gather their meals from the drive-thru station, pray in gratitude for this food and each other, and then converse for an hour. Every week this winter they showed up for each other. When I asked her why she was coming every week in the cold, sometimes to sit outside, sometimes to sit in her car, Virginia replied, “I come for them and you, so they have someone to sit with and you have someone to worship with.” Virginia shows up with an open heart every Wednesday night to break bread with members she has befriended and to worship in the chapel with her pastors who are striving to provide some normalcy in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.
God calls each of us to have open hearts and show up for one another. This is a doable spiritual practice. God makes space for each of us at God’s Open Table and asks us to do likewise. For me, I have been learning since the young age of three and continue to still learn that an open table and an open heart are deep spiritual and communal practices that allow us to dwell in the presence of God and each other.
Survey the opportunities in your life to show up for people who might need your presence even more than physical stuff like food. Where is one place you will plan on being, just to be open to those in need of community this week?
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