For the past few years a few friends and I have been experimenting with ways of being spiritual community. We’ve called this experiment The Open Table Project, wanting an umbrella term for our efforts.
Most of us already have a “church” home, meaning a formal place of worship that we belong to and attend on Sunday mornings.
Our goal has never been to replace our church commitments or start a church of our own. We’ve always understood our efforts as an organic overflow of our religious commitments. By organic, I mean natural, mostly unstructured, and without institutional affiliation.
Over the past four years, more than 30 folks have attended small, Open Table gatherings, because they’ve wanted more – more meaning, more belonging, more opportunities to share, explore, and apply their Christian convictions.
So, we’ve met to talk, to share meals, or just have a drink and socialize. Sometimes in a restaurant, sometimes in a coffee shop, often in someone’s home. We’ve met to discuss something we’ve read together. We’ve met to celebrate a holiday. We’ve met to experiment with table liturgy. We’ve met to share our stories and ideas. We’ve met just to hang out.
We’ve laid many good foundations to continue building on. We’ve enjoyed some good food. And we’ve laughed, cried, and allowed ourselves to be vulnerable and real.
Essentially, we’ve been throwing people together, usually at table, over meals, and seeing what happens.
So, what’s happened? What have we seen? What have we learned?
First, we’ve learned that denomination doesn’t matter that much for the sake of community. We’ve had Lutherans, Catholics, Universalists, and even Jews, at table together talking about prayer, or scripture, or God, or service, or whatever. People are people and our differences, if we allow them to, add an enjoyable spice to the mix.
Second, we’ve learned that our culture doesn’t encourage genuine community or make it easy. Careers, work schedules, the complexities and stresses of modern life – leave many people exhausted and unmotivated to give any more of themselves. A night on the sofa in front of the television in sweatpants if often much more attractive than a conversation or dinner – it takes energy meeting new people. Our culture works to keep people isolated and alone.
Third, we’ve learned that it’s natural to have false starts and ideas not come to fruition. We’ve met many wonderful, amazing people. We’ve connected many of these folks to one another or deepened existing connections. Some folks come and go. Others stay on the periphery. Some keep coming. And that’s all fine and good.
Underlying all of gatherings and efforts have been several convictions.
First, that authentic community is essential to Christian living and genuine spirituality. We’ve learned that some church communities do a better job at being “community” than others, thus our efforts. We’re convinced that Christianity is very much about community and that Christian communities need not be limited to institutional churches, not that there’s anything wrong with institutional churches.
Second, that being “church,” at a fundamental level, doesn’t require clergy, large buildings, or institutions. Church is anywhere we are.
Third, that lasting religious community is built, in part, on friendship and time together. There’s power and much potential, something very human, gathering people together at table together over food.
We’re beginning to plan some things for 2018. One of them is what we’re calling “Soup Dinner with a Side of Conversation.” This will be a Lenten set of small, intimate, gatherings to enjoy a meal together and talk casually about a chosen theme, and beyond.
If you might be interested in joining us, get in touch!