Russell and Duenes

Table Fellowship

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I was recently corresponding with one of my former students about “table fellowship.” In my days at UCLA, professor Scott Bartchy came and spoke to us about some of the practices of the the Christian communities in Acts of Apostles, and as I recall, he paid particular attention to this practice he called “table fellowship.” Turns out, he wrote an article by that title in Zondervan’s “Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels.” Bartchy writes: “[Jesus] presented the rule of God, using images of food, drink…and home as a roving banquet hall by which God sought Israelites to be guests and then hosts. At this table they were offered reconciliation with God, a true home, and a spiritual and material abundance, as the basis for offering all these good things to each other, to others yet to come and even to enemies.” Bartchy’s notion of “table fellowship” has stayed with me ever since. I have not conducted any sociological studies to determine whether Americans, and American Christians in particular, have largely abandoned the practice, but from everything that I read, and from my anecdotal experience, most of us do not regularly enjoy good, relaxed, intentional meals together, where we linger over the food and fellowship. Yet the vision, and my scant experience with table fellowship, beckons me, and creates a scene and sense of beauty, joy and rest in my soul.

When I graduated from UCLA back in 1992, I moved into a community house with four other single guys in inner-city Los Angeles. We lived across the street from our church and were all involved in youth ministry there. But we were also intentional about our life together as housemates. The two years I lived there were tough, but I well remember that we had a house meal each week, where each of us took turns preparing the meal. It was nothing earth-shattering, but when I reflect back on it, I enjoyed those times as much as any we had together as friends and housemates. One of my housemates, Huxley, made Chicken Mole for us of a most delictible kind. Yet, as much as the food, it was a time of fellowship to look forward to each week. I wish I had something like that going in my life today.

I suggested something along these lines when I lived in Berkeley. I was renting a downstairs apartment from a family upstairs, and the family was taking a sabbatical in Washington and subletting the house to several young women. There were also some single guys living across the street. We began to have a weekly (or perhaps it was biweekly) meal together, and like before, different people were responsible each week for the meal. We would eat together and then usually hang out afterwards or play games together. It was phenomenal.

All this to say, I consider my own life, and the lives of urban and suburban folks around me – harried and harrassed in soul by the mad pace of the modern world, carried away by our own sense of self-importance, flitting from one meeting, event, engagement or outing to another, fighting through snarls of traffic, and scarfing down meals on the go – and I consider what it would mean for most of us to be invited to the table of another, to enjoy a thoughtfully-prepared meal, seasoned with love, grace and lingering conversation. I consider the bounty it would be to our souls, and how we might even come to change some of our habits and folkways when it comes to food, fellowship and time, and I long for God to restore the priority and practice of table fellowship in me, my family, and in His Church.



Written by Michael Duenes

April 4, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

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