Table Fellowship

25 Jan

In the middle of our dining room at Trinity House, our ecumenical campus ministry in the middle of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, sits a very large, sturdy oak table with a wide assortment of chairs around it. Three of the four walls of this dining rooms are mostly bookshelves that stretch from the bottom of the floor to the top of the ten foot ceiling. On this oak table, I make sure delicious meals are served up for dinner on Monday night and lunch on Thursday noon. Nothing too fancy. Something very tasty. Something that is not Brouwer Common, the campus dining hall near us. Sometimes I make these meals. (Last night was cashew chili with cornbread, a salad and apple pie for dessert.) Sometimes the students make these meals. Sometimes local churches bring these meals and we make sure they stay to share them with us. Always we practice the spiritual discipline of table fellowship.

Table fellowship involves delicious food and a wide open space to talk: about our week, what classes to take (or avoid), ideas being wrestling with in class, a brother’s wedding, a grandfather’s alcoholism, a guest’s perspective on when to ask for help, encouragement to approach professors, the lectionary text for the week, questions of faith, questions of life, questions of meaning. Our students bring friends. Often we laugh; sometimes tears born of pressure and fatigue spill.

There is something about sharing a meal with other people that creates connection like none other. There is something real about satisfying the hungry with good things. There is something essential about giving the thirsty something to drink. We share companionship, always breaking bread together (literally!), sharing community. We become vulnerable to one another and nurture one another in liveliness.

As John Burkhart writes in his book, Worship, “Every meal, therefore, is an occasion for worship, for eucharistic and ethical behavior,; and every meal, as a gift from God, like those of the earliest disciples, from whom grace came ‘as they were eating,’ shares something like those crucial feasts where God’s consummate gift is celebrated.”
Our life together at Rutgers is about being a smaller Christian community in the midst of  the larger secular Rutgers community. We trust that table fellowship helps God nourish us with food and community.

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Barbara serves as the campus minister for Rutgers Protestant Campus Ministries in New Brunswick, NJ. She has served the Protestant Cooperative Ministry at Cornell, as Interfaith Coordinator at Occidental College, and assisted the Westminster Foundation at Princeton University. She received her Bachelor of Arts with Honors in German from University of Wisconsin-Madison, writing a honors thesis on peace activities in East Germany and the role of the Lutheran Church.  When she isn’t working at Rutgers, she rows with the Carnegie Lake Association or is found painting in oils with her teacher, Gregory Perkel and a beloved community of students.

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One Response to “Table Fellowship”

  1. Steven Tramel Gaines January 25, 2012 at 10:58 am #

    Thanks for this important message. Yes, meals can be worship. I also like to think of them as vehicles of pastoral care and spiritual nurture.

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