A Small Group or Leadership Resource
Jesus’ life was a prime example of what it meant to “diversify the table.” Sometimes the table was literal: a place where he broke bread and drank wine with his disciples or along the shores of Galilee with Peter after the Resurrection. Sometimes the table was metaphorical: a place where Jesus invited the marginalized into community with him, to be a part of building the Kin-dom of God. Jesus’ invitation to the table meant there was always perpetual space for whosoever wanted to come.
How can we model our invitations to the table – both literally and metaphorically – in ways that honor Jesus’ model and hopes for the world?
- RESPONSIBLY INFORM YOUR TABLE:
- Sometimes diversifying the table begins with diversifying our influences. Reading news from other communities, or participating in various cultural experiences (music, art, theatre), can be an entry point for conversation when opportunities present themselves for diverse encounters.
- Ask the people you would like to invite (or would like to build relationships with) what their understanding of a welcoming table looks like and feels like. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own ideas, even about welcome, that we forget that diversity also includes how our cultures have taught us to recognize hospitality itself. When we are not in conversation with others who are different from us – we might be surprised that our radical form of welcome is not received by others in the same way. (In fact, it could even cause offense!)
- CREATE A WELCOMING TABLE:
- Consider, as does Stephanie Spellers, the art of radical welcome as a spiritual practice. In her book, Radical Welcome: Embracing God, the Other, and the Spirit of Transformation, Spellers challenges us to think about power and patterns of inclusion and exclusion as support or hindrances to our ability to radically welcome others. The art of radical welcome requires us to move our privileges of power aside that exclude people from our table, our churches, and our lives.
- A welcoming table both reflects and values the diversities of God. Should people who represent differences be at the table – of course – yes! But simply placing people in a space (or at a table!) does not ensure that they – and their ideas, experiences, and worldviews – are valued. A welcoming table both reflects and values the diversities of God that we see and don’t see.
- IMAGINE AND INSTITUTE A BIGGER TABLE:
- Work with organizations in your community. Many organizations have mastered the art of diversifying the table through their social initiatives to work alongside people who have been marginalized. Tell their Directors or their Community Connections people that your church is looking for ideas to diversify your table. Ask them if they would be willing to share their experiences, obstacles they’ve run into, or even great ideas that just didn’t work. Tapping into their methods and resources to further your goal to diversify your table allows you to benefit from their expertise as you lean further into what God is calling your church to do. (Just make sure you credit them for the ideas & initiatives your church starts.)
- Think about diversity in multiple ways. When first asked, many people think of race, economic class, age/generation, ethnicity, and gender experience. Others might expand that to include level and type of education, national origin, language (even accent), or geography (i.e., mountains, suburbs, cities, etc.) What is often not considered are political or theological diversities. While we might be acutely aware of these differences – especially today – we might never have considered what it would mean for our tables to include persons with political and theological diversity present at the same time. Just imagine!
- HOST A WELCOMING TABLE:
- Be willing to invite and be invited to tables. We often find it difficult to diversify our table because we are afraid to extend invitations to people we think would reject our offer. On the other hand, we are slow to accept the invitation from others who are different from us. Dr. Gregory Ellison, II explores these “fears” in his article “The Way It Is and the Way It Could Be: Fear, Lessness, and the Quest for Fearless Dialogues.” Ellison notes that the fear of strangers propels us to stick closely to people of the same race, culture, gender, and life experiences. He suggests that the creation of “boundary breaking” spaces (like those created at a dinner table, for example) is a first way to eradicate the fear of mutual invitation.
- Move away from “tolerance of” toward “valuing” and ultimately to “learning from” the Other. Tolerance indicates you are willing to be in the same space (even the same denomination) with an Other who is different from you while maintaining distance in acceptance, agreement, or engagement with them. Valuing an Other describes a relationship where differences are seen and honored. Differences are considered gifts which increase our abilities to be the Kin-dom of God together. Valuing an Other respects the persons and their ideas, experiences, and worldviews. When we come to a place where we humbly recognize our need to learn from the Other, we acknowledge we have a limited understanding both of humanity and of God in their fullness without the knowledge and wisdom of others.
- REDEFINE YOUR TABLE:
- Redefine TABLE: Are you talking about a dinner (or breakfast) table? Are you talking about the Communion table? Are you talking about a literal table at your church? In someone’s home? Are you using “table” metaphorically to describe the spaces in your sanctuary? In your hearts?
- Redefine YOUR: To whom does your table belong? Does the table you reference belong to you, the church, the community, the least of these, the stranger, your enemies, to God? Asking and answering this question can radically change your responses to everything that has been covered thus far.
YOUR CHURCH’S ACTION PLAN TO DIVERSIFY THE TABLE:
Resource Written by Rev. Alisha Gordon