I grew up in a closed table sacramental tradition - that means when they passed the plate with the bread and juice only people who had asked Jesus to be their saviour were invited to participate. I grew up with strong feelings about this when I went through Bible college because I didn't know any different tradition was possible. I've spent a lot of time repeating the comment from one student last semester after reading my chapter on the church and reacting to the page and a half of explanation on communion by saying, "This has gone on for over a page about communion and seems like too much." Too much? Whole books could be written on the topic, and I am still nervous I didn't say enough with that bare bones less than two page explanation! Christians take this practice very seriously - whether they are open or closed table practicers. I've read some challenging arguments for open table that describe profound encounters with the Holy Spirit by non-believers who've received the elements, and I've read one description in particular that connects the whole practice with Christian hospitality. I've concluded that regardless of your communion practices, Christians ought to develop a more open table relationship with hospitality.
I have come to realise I have a strange relationship with hospitality. Well, actually, I'd argue it's biblical, but apparently not everyone's parents were as generous as mine. I believe the credit would be passed to my paternal grandparents as my dad frequently describes his Sunday dinners growing up as a standard American Thanksgiving feast, and his Thanksgiving feasts were fit to feed an army - literally because my dad is a military kid. The Hewett family was known to invite stragglers from church home for lunch after service and adopt them into their family. I grew up with "cadets" that were men my dad or uncle's age who were spoken of like extended family. In my house growing up, my parents always invited people over, and my friends were always welcome. My mom may have a different side of the story when it comes to her stress over preparing food or cleaning the house, but the message I absorbed was that people were valued and we made space for those who needed somewhere to feel at home.
Moving overseas by myself, I was in the reverse position of needing an invite in somewhere rather than being the home that hosted strays. Over the years, my bench has become a kind of place to host stray students wandering home and needing a cup of tea and conversation on their way. My heart is incredibly warmed to know it's a place alumni return to as well. This past week, Kandern has begun what I call "alumni season" as students make their way back to visit parents or friends and even stop by to have a cup of tea with me. It began on Monday as a 2021 grad came with a classmate who lives in Basel to fill me in on her first year of university. We also spent time praying together and talking about how each of us hears the Holy Spirit. Tuesday night I saw two of my 2020 AP English students and had a wonderful time hearing about their adventures - and even one decision to switch to an English major. Wednesday night two of my students from the very first class I taught at BFA stopped to say hello before planning to visit my Friday class and have tea with me. Thursday after school, I caught up with a 2020 graduate who is studying liberal arts and wants to become an educator. We had a wonderful conversation on the redemptive value of evil in stories and the place of authorial intent in works of art.
Friday during tea my 2017 graduates continued the conversation about eschatalogical wonder and how we can love God and love others. I loved getting to hear their hearts for growing closer to Jesus and processing how the church can better do discipleship. Friday night I attended a 10 year old's birthday party as the family down the street practices the same kind of hospitality that is ingrained in me. I've been adopted into their family, and I've even invited other people to come to dinner at their house. The table is always open to more.
Saturday, I spent the majority of my day at my bench with Caylie - one of the 2017 grads - and we
reviewed our conflicted feelings on "community" and how the church operates in the places we've lived. I was thinking about the places I felt welcomed or when I felt excluded, and the hurt is real from being uninvited or unwelcome places. I work at a Christian school where all the staff profess a faith in Jesus Christ, but it's a high proportion of non-Christian, questioning, or at the very least not "good Christian" kids who come to my bench after school. One student commented recently about how BFA felt like a place that catered to the popular Christian kids in certain places. The comment stuck in my brain because I know for a fact no staff member is trying to only love the cool kids, but we must fight the social stigmas in the same way any secular school needs to. As Caylie and I chatted, we processed ideas of how to extend the reach and love more people well - not just in the student ministry context, but on a peer level for
each of us. I personally struggled a lot to find community once moving overseas, and I want to be intentional to open my table to everyone who moves here. That doesn't mean I become best friends with everyone, but there is an important element of intentional inclusion that matters to me.
Don't get me wrong, I'm still the highest possible introvert, but I know that whatever it means to be made in the image of God, it has to do with relationship. I can enjoy the open table that lets me hear people's hearts and learn how to better pray for them as we live in community together. I can also be a part of welcoming those who feel isolated or alone. Last week leaving church, Helen and I invited ourselves to Laurie's house for a lunch today. Laurie and Dottie are incredibly hospitable and opened their home to six extra people (one came after the picture was taken) - one of whom was a church member we saw from the balcony as she was walking down the street. I sat at the end of this table enjoying one of the most beautiful meals because I was listening to stories of Jesus followers from various country and cultural backgrounds sharing how they have grown more like their saviour. The locum chaplain joined us as well, and I was extra blessed by seeing his sermon in practice as we shared stories. In the service, Geoff said we should pay attention to who the Lord brought us into contact with and be sensitive to how God might speak to us through them or to them through us. I had multiple moments through this past week where I know the Lord showed up in intentional interactions. Sharing lunch today was another holy moment as we gathered around a table to share food and the love of Jesus.
Tonight I'll have a few friends over to do more of the same as I work with a few of the other people in the area who have expressed feelings of isolation to build community together sharing stories and sharing life. Tomorrow morning I'll sit with my cup of coffee at my open table to spend time with Jesus reflecting on how the past week's interactions have helped to make me more like him.