open table

Pass the Ketchup Or How Emmaus Reminds us to Set an Open Table for All Ages and Abilities

By: J.C. Mitchell

Walking to Emmaus, are you?  I hope so. I think Luke purposely does not name Cleopas’s friend, so that everyone can put themselves in this Resurrection account.  Luke adds this Resurrection scene seven miles outside of Jerusalem; that is, just outside the center of power.  The witness is not one of the eleven, but one obviously in the know.  Now this story, which happens on the day of the Resurrection, is only written about by Luke, and I believe it is a perfect reminder of inclusion of all in communion: An Open Table, which is always important and a great way to remember it is Autism Acceptance & Awareness month this April.  

 It seems that the two walking along had different interpretations of the recent murder of Jesus and the news from the women.  The Greek suggests that they are in a debate throwing ideas back and forth.  I imagine it is emotional; maybe not quite as heated as Bernie supporters and Hillary supporters, but something like that.  Jesus arrives, and is not recognized by our inconsequential people, and explains everything from Moses to the events of that morning, and they/we still don’t get it.  I have had people ask me, “Why Luke did not record Jesus’ words about the Hebrew Scriptures?” and I reply,” That is exactly the point.”

Jesus is not interested in leaving us with more Scripture; Jesus leaves us with the Table.  This is exactly where I and Cleopas know Jesus, and that is truly amazing, for we may still have different interpretations, but we are united after this Resurrection moment revealed in the Breaking of the Bread, to go back to inform the eleven with authority. 

Currently my son who is non-conversational (talks only for basic needs) is offered Communion and only takes it when it is delicious bread.  Once I had to hide the Hawaiian Loaf that was brought in (by a congregant that refuses to use sourdough, because Jesus is Sweet not…).  The whole congregation said, “let him have some,” but I reminded them that I already said no (by the way, most of them are great-grandparents).  I will continue to bring him to Communion services in worship and at home, for this act of eating together is truly the act of community, thus I cannot limit it to simply the Table in the Church, or sanctified by such an institution, even when I am the clergy doing such a thing.  I find it seven miles outside with the sojourner or resident alien, not just my beloved liturgy. 

 For even if you were to hear the explanation of the Resurrection from Jesus Himself, you will still not get it; thus my son’s interpretation and experience at the Table is as valid as my own. For Jesus left a simple message, eat together and love one another, and both my son and I can do that well, and with anyone willing to pass the ketchup.  

At the Table Together

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

This week, the congregation I serve has been involved in the ministry of acting as hosts for our area homeless.  We open the doors of our fellowship center for them and they are able to stay inside for the night and avoid the elements of the winter’s cold weather.  We are one of twenty-two local churches who take a week and extend this form of hospitality to our homeless community.  We provide an evening meal at no charge.  We have a station to check blood pressures.  There is a clothing corner where donated items can be picked up by those who might need them.  We give each person a Ziploc bag filled with toiletry items, along with socks and gloves.  Last night, we had a woman with needle and thread who was ready to sew up any holes or put on any buttons that were needed.   We have church members who stay the night to be available in case there are any specific late-night needs. We also have a group of people, including me, whose whole job is to walk around and shake hands, pat backs, and make certain people know we are glad to share this space with them.

Those who find themselves in need of this ministry have been very patient and appreciative during the week.  They have waited in line for their food.  They have asked politely when there was something they needed.  They have expressed gratitude when their need has been met.  I have listened as some told funny stories and sat with others as they cried.  I have heard them offer prayers and nodded my head as some shared their stories.  I have been reminded this week that there really is a small line that separates most of us from those who live on the fringes of society.

I have been in congregational ministry for thirty years and have ministered in many different ways to the congregations and communities that I have been part of.  From preaching sermons to teaching lessons; from saying a prayer for a baby who has just been born into the world to presiding at a service in which we say goodbye to one of God’s beloved saints;  from church camps to civic clubs; from board meetings to potluck dinners, I have experienced all that ministry is in the local congregation.  And they all are avenues of God’s wonderful grace.  But for me, I have never come closer to understanding what the realm of God is about than when I sit down with someone, like one of our guests this week, and share both food and the story of our lives. 

At the same time that we are sharing in this ministry, our congregation is going through a Lenten Bible study called “At Table with Jesus.”  We are looking at how Jesus used the table to express his radical sense of hospitality to all and to show that there was no one who stood outside the boundaries of God’s grace.  Jesus sat at the table with all who welcomed him.  Maybe he knew that one of the first major controversies in the church was one that involved table fellowship.  Would the Jews and Gentiles sit down and eat together (Galatians 2:11-14)?

In the spirit of Christ, having a meal with someone is a form of acceptance and care.  And refusing to have a meal with someone is a form of rejection and condemnation.  A number of years back I had a couple in the church I was serving who could never get all three of their adult children together for a family meal.  The reason – one of their daughters was a lesbian who had a partner.  Their son, because of his understanding of his Christian faith, would not allow his children to be around his sister.  So the family never got to have a meal together.  The parents would have to have two meals every holiday if they wanted to see all their children and grandchildren.  Their hearts were deeply grieved.  I believe the heart of God was as well.

My understanding of grace and acceptance has broadened greatly over the years.  That doesn’t mean I always agree with someone or that everything goes.  It does mean that I am willing to set down, break bread and listen to someone’s story and share my own.  I believe that in the midst of our conversation the living Christ is present and glad to be there. 

We Are the Church . . . Together

Rev. Kara Markell

There’s a not-so-old church song that says:

I am the church, you are the church
We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus, all around the world!
Yes, we’re the church together!

I believe it.  And most of the time, luckily, I feel it.  But right now I’m not feelin’ it.   I’ve been in conversation with many other clergy in my region, who, like me, will not be at the table when our church gathers nationally in a few months.  It’s not because I don’t want to go.  It’s because it has become financially impossible for me to do so.  And I don’t mean that I couldn’t raise the money if I wanted to.  I serve a financially stable church in the suburbs.  We’d probably be able to scrape the money together.  But what about my colleague who serves in another setting who doesn’t have the means of gathering those funds?  Are we really going to force our Youth to do one more fundraiser so they can be represented at the table?

The truth is, I kind of don’t want to go.  Mostly, because it’s not a good use of my, or my congregation’s resources.  It’s too expensive. I can’t justify staying in a fancy hotel for a week, paying airfare and meals, sitting in the air conditioning, listening to famous speakers, while I know that the table is incomplete, while I know that money could have provided food for  several families during spring break. And even more, I don’t want to participate in excluding.  Only some voices will be at the table.  Only some people will “be the church” at the assembly.  And this, to me, is unacceptable.

I suppose in some ways, it’s impossible, or at least improbable, to get every voice around the table. But that’s the goal, isn’t it?  And I pray that those who gather as a general church acknowledge who is not there.  Like Paul reminds us, “The eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you,” because “we are the church together.”   But, I think we’re saying it, without saying it.  In a year when a major resolution about inclusion is coming to a vote, will the voices of those we want included be there for discussion and prayer and voting?  I don’t know.  And if they’re not, we need to be honest about why that is the case and start a conversation about how, in the future, we can ensure that every part of the body of Christ is represented; how they are a part of the conversation and decision-making in our church.  

I am the church.  You are the church.  We are the church.  Together.

Why Can't We Say Our Denomination Is O&A?

Another Conversation

Pastor (First Church, Anywhere, USA): Hey Derek! Good to see you. Listen, I want to tell you that I’ve read some of your stuff about churches becoming Open and Affirming.[1]

Me: Yeah, I seem to be having those conversations quite a bit lately.[2]

Pastor: I also see that you think our denomination [Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)] should declare itself O&A.

Me: Yes, I do.

Pastor: That’s not going to work.

Me: Really? Why is that?

Pastor: Congregational autonomy. Churches can do and believe just about anything they want. So, to say that our denomination is O&A is basically a lie, because we have a significant majority of churches that aren’t.

Me: So, just so I get this right: Are you saying that we should never make claims about ourselves as a denomination that can’t be demonstrably supported in the life of all congregations?

Pastor: Not all of the congregations. If that were true, you could never say anything.

Me: True enough. Then, how many of the congregations need to be on board before you’re comfortable making claims about our denominational identity?

Pastor: I don’t know that we should put a number on it—but at least a majority.

Me: Do you think that should apply to our denominational Statement of Identity?

Pastor: What do you mean?

Me: “We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord’s table as God has welcomed us.” Should we be able to say that about ourselves if we don’t always live up to it? Should we wait to say that about ourselves until we can be reasonably certain that it’s true for Disciples and Disciples congregations … at least a majority of the time? At what point, and based on what polling data were we convinced that it was theologically acceptable to allow women to become ministers? Even though it’s fairly clear that in practice, at least based on the hiring practices of a majority of Disciples congregations, as a denomination we don’t believe in women ministers.

Pastor: But, here’s where you’re missing the point: The Statement of Identity is not necessarily supposed to be a descriptive statement. That is to say, we don’t slap that up on our web site, claiming that this is true of all Disciples all of the time. We put it up there to show us who, according to our best lights, we ought to be.

Me: Ok. So, here’s my question: How is voting to say that Disciples are Open and Affirming any more a lie because it doesn’t represent all congregations than saying that “Disciples are a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world?” Neither are true of all Disciples everywhere. Isn’t that false advertising?

Pastor: No. It’s an ideal, not an empirically verifiable statement of fact.

Me: But voting to declare ourselves O&A as a denomination should be?

Pastor: It’s not the same thing. We don’t want to mislead LGBTQ people by telling them that we’re O&A and have them come and find out we’re not.

Me: I understand that—and I think it’s a legitimate concern. But the church always has to deal with the issue of hypocrisy—saying one thing, but doing another. What happens if a person who’s been hurt by the church before wanders onto the denominational web site and sees this Statement of Identity and thinks, “At last, I’ve found a denomination where I can be safe. They heal people here; they don’t break them?” Then that person goes to a series of Disciples churches and finds out that in practice we aren’t always “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.” Don’t we risk alienating people by representing ourselves this way, when sooner or later they will find out it’s not always true of us?

Pastor: All right, but at least we can all agree in general as a denomination that we should be “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world”—whether or not we always live up to it. We don’t all agree in general as a denomination that we should be “Open and Affirming.”

Me: But isn’t that what the second part of the Statement of Identity says? “As part of the one body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord’s table as God has welcomed us.”

Pastor: “Welcoming” people to the table isn’t the same as “affirming” someone’s sexual orientation.

Me: I’m not so sure about that.

Pastor: You know what I mean.

Me: I think I know what people who disagree with me about this issue mean when they say it. But how does the average person reading our Statement of Identity know that?

That’s the point: If you say that we can’t honestly claim to be an O&A denomination because it’s not true of enough congregations, then you’ve seriously limited what we can say about ourselves as a denomination—since, we’re never in full agreement about much of anything. Moreover, we don’t have any metric in place by which we can measure when we’ve reached consensus—apart from “Sense of the Assembly Resolutions,” which is what many have said we cannot put forward on this issue because there’s not enough evidence to establish its veracity—a veritable ecclesiastical extravaganza of question-begging.

Additionally, if you say that we can’t claim to be an O&A denomination because it might mislead people by luring them into the church under the false pretense that we affirm their sexual orientation or gender identity—which they may soon find out isn’t necessarily true and by which deception they might be hurt—then we’re always in danger of false advertising and potentially harming people any time we hold out the vision of who we think God wants us to be … since we so regularly fail to live up to it.

“You are master of the straw man argument. You use this ‘conversation’ device to trot out easy arguments so you can knock them down.”

Fair enough. If the past is any indication, I’m sure I’ll get all kinds of email pointing out my failings as a logician, a theologian, and a human being.

But my point in all of this isn’t just to be right; it’s to struggle toward the truth. And the truth is that “We can’t say we’re O&A when we’re not” doesn’t settle the matter. It risks confusing different kinds of discourse. A Statement of Identity is at least as exhortative as it is declarative.

The question that our denomination will continue to contend with is the extent to which we can claim to be “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world” that welcomes “all to the Lord’s table,” when in practice we defend a brokenness that excludes people from that table.

Discuss.


  1. Open and Affirming (hereinafter: O&A) is a designation that speaks to the decision of a congregation or organization to declare itself publicly to be not only welcoming to LGBTQ people, but embracing of them as people created by God with equal standing in the church.  ↩
  2. As always when I write about this issue, I realize that not everyone agrees with me on the proposition that LGBTQ people are fine just the way they are—at least as far as their sexual orientation or gender identity. If that describes you, this post isn’t addressed to you and will just make you mad. I’m writing to people who already agree with me on the basic issue, but who (for whatever reason—and there are many) don’t think pressing ahead on the question of O&A is a good idea.  ↩

TCU experiences offer insight on future of church

Aside from General Assembly itself (which I am regrettably missing and desperately following via Twitter), Texas Christian University is one of main faces of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in modern society. That is, other than Colonel Sanders. (Sadly not kidding—there’s some trivia for you!) After all, we’re the biggest Disciples school! That, and we won the Rose Bowl. Throughout highschool, TCU was the beacon of  all things DOC for me. I knew at least 20 people who had gone there, and I imagined it to be one happy, close-knit community. It was largely due to this that I chose the school.

Once I got to school, I realized both how much and how little being “Disciples of Christ” really means.

On one hand, every time I met another DOC student, we were both particularly excited due to the rarity of meeting other Disciples. “Disciples” serves almost as a nationality or ethnicity, it is so deeply engrained in our faith identity. Whenever I meet those students, it is similar to the phenomenon of running into Americans outside the states. “No way! Small world!”

However, on the other hand, finding another “Disciple” doesn’t mean much in regards to beliefs.

Growing up at St. Andrew Christian Church, the home of the Rev. Holly McKissick (whom I hope everyone heard at General Assembly), I was under the grandiose impression that all Disciples congregations were like mine—explicitly open to all people regardless of age, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, financial status, etc. I thought all youth groups went to anti-war rallies together and spent Wednesday nights in the summer watching documentaries about immigration.

But as I grew older and started attending a regional church camp, and then especially when I got to TCU, this idea was quickly corrected. Not everyone has a faith tradition like mine. Not many do, really.

Whenever I talk about my congregation and all of its openly gay couples who adopt children, some of my fellow Disciples get visibly uncomfortable. It’s clear—that’s not at all what their churches would accept. Moreover, when a pastor in the TCU area recently came out, people were considerably upset.

It’s reasons like these why many in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) claim we should not make an official statement proclaiming the equality and acceptance of GLBTQ members of our denomination. We’re already divided enough, they say. It’s changing too fast, especially for Texas, they add.

But TCU itself has offered far too strong of a counterargument for me to agree with those opponents. The reason? Gay students with no faith home.

Almost all of my gay friends were spiritual or went to church when they were growing up, but quit shortly after coming out. Why? Why not. They don’t want to be part of an institution that doesn’t accept them. They don’t want to be part of an institution that makes meandering statements, beating around the bush about an “open table.” What does that really mean?

They want the church to reach out to them and say: “YOU are accepted. YOU are loved. God made you this way.”

And while Disciples of Christ, of course, does claim to seek “wholeness in a fragmented world,” what good is that when I am trying to explain what our denomination believes to my skeptical, hurt LBGTQ friends? “Uh, it’s this denomination, and we’re pretty progressive and it’s gay-friendly…Well, not officially, exactly…”

It’s when you mention this little loophole—“not officially”—that your LGBTQ friend stops listening. She’s heard it all before. He wants specific validation, someone who is willing to accept him for who he is. Although someone would claim it’s petty or unnecessary, they need it printed in black on the bulletin. Otherwise, it’s just an empty statement—to good to be true.

LGBTQ or not, most young people who have become disenchanted with the Church say it’s due to the Church’s stance on homosexuality. Why doesn’t the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) realize this and capitalize upon it? Why don’t we see this as a time to finally find something to believe in?

If the church can find the strength to officiate our stance on an “open table” for all—including during our hiring of clergy—perhaps we can reach out to those who want so badly to be accepted and actually mean it when we say—“Welcome.”

By Emily Atteberry