Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thankfulness

Today I attended our Community Thanksgiving Service here in Jefferson City. It was a bit of a milestone moment for me, because I was asked to participate in the service by choosing and reading the lection from the Hebrew Bible. No big deal, it would seem to most, I’m sure. However, to be quite honest, it was a big deal. It was a big deal because somebody took the time to invite us to participate.

Quite honestly, there are many in the local Christian Community who would much prefer that we didn’t exist. But, as it turns out, there are also many who are glad that we are here, and who are willing to risk their reputation on making sure that we are included. And those same few people keep going out of their way to be sure that we get invited. For that, I am thankful. And the way that extension of welcome warms my heart reminds me that it is that kind of welcome to which God calls us all, and specifically the kind of radical welcome for which God has called Table of Grace into existence.

I am thankful for our call to radical welcome. I think the welcome part is easy. We’re a friendly bunch, happy to have a new friend pop in every now and then. I used to get a bit offended when I heard the words “radical welcome” because they suggested to me that someone could be so unworthy of our welcome, that to extend such welcome would in fact be “radical” (thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms
, according to dictionary.com). Well really, who are we to suggest that someone is so outside of the normal realm of welcome that they belong in the radical category?  I should tell you that I also have a pretty deep rooted issue with the biblical language of “the least of these.” Those words make me cringe any time I hear them. Ponder that for a moment.

So, since I have determined that radical welcome can’t mean that to me…it can’t mean that there are certain persons in this world who would only be worthy of radical welcome. I’ve spent some time considering what else it might mean to me. I think the radical part of radical welcome is more about stick-to-it-ive-ness, than about the inherent worth of the person being welcomed. It is all about the ability of the community not just to invite somebody in, but rather, to stick with them when they figure out that just like us, they got issues!

And really, these days, who has time for other people’s crap? I’m sorry, did that sound harsh? Maybe, but it’s truthful, right? We all need people around us who require the least possible amount of our time and attention, because we are already spread way too thin. So, new friends, new community members are good, as long as they don’t require a lot of stamina on our parts. Sometimes I watch the attitude creep into the gathering space at ToG. It’s rare, but it does occasionally happen, and it makes me sad. But then I see the magic. I see the light go on, the twinkle in people’s eyes, when they come back around. People step back for a moment and it’s as if they say to themselves “THIS is what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like. “ Well, okay, I usually say that, but maybe there aren’t a whole lot of other folks at ToG regularly using kingdom of heaven language in their thought life…

Anyway, people push through, and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s the point in a relationship where the person who was originally the welcomee realizes that these people are for real. It’s the point where people who have heard for years about unconditional love, but never experienced it; begin to ask themselves if it could really be so. It’s the point where we let God, who lives within each of us, come out to play. If we know anything from our sacred texts, and from our faith tradition, it is that our God is a God of steadfast love and grace. No matter how many times we walk out on God and on each other, God remains. God waits, lets us throw our tantrums, lets us have our way, lets us wreck our relationships; and stands there waiting with open arms for us to give up and come back.
That, my friends is what we are called to. When we put a sign in the front of our church that said “a place of sanctuary for all”, we made a statement that most people aren’t willing to make, or at least to make and mean. It is that, a sanctuary, a safe place, a refuge, for anyone and everyone, and all the stuff that they bring with them. And it is that because there are people there who are committed to that kingdom vision. And for that, I am thankful.

Like those few people in the local Christian community who keep going out of their way to be sure that ToG is invited and included; I pray that we are that kind of presence for individuals who need to find their place of welcome. It’s hard work my friends. Stick-to-it-ive-ness is not a trait that comes natural to humanity, and certainly not to us here in this “have it your way” society; but it is a beautiful gift that has been given to us by the One who made us, and I see it being nurtured in our amazing little community every day.

Thank you for being amazing and loving and welcoming. For YOU I am thankful.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Happy Anniversary ToG

Wow, it's August 29th! Guess it's been a while since the last blog post! So much has been happening at Table of Grace, and we're so excited about the things that are going to continue to happen. We set out at our first service (and really way before) to create a place of belonging for a diverse group of people. We wanted to invite and include people who had never, or at least not for many years, felt welcome in any church. That first service was one year and two days ago, and every day since then, I have been in awe to watch God move in our lives, in our new faith community, and in our local community. I have seen people come out of their shells. I've seen people who didn't feel welcome anywhere loved beyond measure by a bunch of people who just met them. I've seen people who had written off God and anything related to Christianity because of bad experiences, who might consider calling themselves a Christian, or at least a follower of Jesus. And I've seen people who are not now and never intend to be Christian discover that this little community can still be a place of spiritual renewal for them, regardless of their faith tradition.

If I didn't work so hard to keep my composure, I would be a sobbing mess every moment of every day thinking about the beauty of what God and the folks at ToG are doing! Children of the community are being loved, fed and taught about being themselves, loving one another and taking care of the Earth. Adults who have never really been interested in the Bible are engaged in great discussion asking "Banned Questions About the Bible" and "Feasting on the Word" (our two bible study guides to date). People who barely know one another are going to great lengths to take care of other members of the community with pressing needs. This is what any faith community should be about, and I'm so proud to be a part of this!

Even as I write this, folks are planning and making connections to get our food pantry and community meal up and running. We will be providing a much needed addition to the community food resources that already exist, being extra careful and diligent to provide healthy and usable food items for anyone who needs them. In addition to providing extra food help, we will invite the community in to come share a meal with us on the days that the pantry is open. We have learned the value of eating together. We know that when we sit across the table from somebody and share a meal with them, we begin to share their life and their story. That is what we want to do with those who come to the Table of Grace food pantry for assistance as well. We want to share in the lives, the struggles and the hopes of our neighbors; and we want to share meals with them.

These are just a few of the things that we are doing right now, and there are so many more in our hearts and probably in yours! Next week we will be gathering together to share those hopes and dreams and try to organize our efforts for the upcoming year. If you've ever thought about becoming a part of this amazing community, I hope that you'll check it out soon. We need your voice, your hands and your heart. Please check out our Facebook page for weekly updates about what is going on. Just search for Table of Grace-Jefferson City.

There are so many people who have yet to hear the life giving news that we are here to proclaim. God loves each and every one of us and desires peace and justice in our world, here and now. At Table of Grace, we will continue to work toward that end, realizing of course that we will never fully arrive, but knowing that we sure can work with God to bring light into the darkness around us. Will you join us in proclaiming this good news and roll your sleeves up to work with us for peace and justice?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What if?

Last night at Table of Grace, I preached a “what if” sermon, asking along the way…What if I were the friends in the passage (Mark 2:1-12…feel free to stop and read it now if you weren’t there)? What if I were the paralyzed man? What if I were in the group of onlookers? What if…wait for it…what if I was Jesus?
Wait a minute, did I just blaspheme? Can you even say that? I mean, really, is that like calling myself God? It seems a bit like shaky ground. In my own life, though, I feel like that is the place where I have been called to stand…on the shaky ground. It is the ground that Jesus walked on, where he muddied waters, and stirred pots, and challenged establishments. That ground, the ground of status quo and of inequality and injustice, was forever shaken by the life and message of Jesus.
Over and over again throughout the gospels, we have Jesus calling us to follow him. He tells the disciples that they have authority to do all of the things that he is doing, and more. When he left them, no longer to be visibly, physically present with them, he told them that they would have a Spirit that would accompany them always, and that through that Spirit, he, and of course God, would always be with them. I believe that he asked them to take over his place in the stories, to continue his mission, to spread his good news. Therefore, I have decided to start looking at the Biblical text through this lens (along with the collection of others that I have).
Last night I shared a quote from Peter Gomes, author of The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, among other things. Peter, who passed from this world far too early, last spring, said this: “The question should not be 'What would Jesus do?' but rather, more dangerously, 'What would Jesus have me do?' The onus is not on Jesus but on us, for Jesus did not come to ask semi-divine human beings to do impossible things. He came to ask human beings to live up to their full humanity; he wants us to live in the full implication of our human gifts, and that is far more demanding.” Enough said, right?
What would Jesus have me do? What if Jesus expected me to take seriously the charge to keep doing what he was doing? What if I did? What if you did? What if people began to experience wholeness in body, mind, and spirit because we cared?  What if people who were hungry began to experience food security, rather than food insecurity, because we who have shared with those who have not? What if my self-interest began to wane because my concern for others began to fill me in ways that I have never experienced? What if the love of God began to flow through me in the same way that it flowed through Jesus because I began to really follow?
What if, what if, what if. During our children’s moment last night, I asked the children what message they got from the four friends holding on tightly to the ropes and lowering their friend into the middle of the room where Jesus could heal him. The answer that I got came from our daughter, Alexis, who I must say is pretty amazing. She said “you have to hold on tight to your friends until they get what they need.”
Wow. What if we did that? What if our friends did that for us? You know what’s cool? I believe we have friends who would do that. And I feel pretty strongly that we would do that for any of our friends. So I guess the challenge is to go back and ask “what if I’m Jesus?” That just explodes the possibilities, because now everybody is my friend, and everybody is deserving of my care and compassion. What if there was nobody for whom I wasn’t willing to hold on tight, until they got what they needed. That is the goal to which I aspire. Anyone care to join me?
These are my thoughts today, I hope you'll share yours.
Blessings, Michelle

Friday, February 17, 2012

What I wish everyone knew about Table of Grace.


Not long ago, I was thinking about all the great things I'm seeing happen at Table of Grace, so I tried to put in to words.

I hope you will find these words to be true as well.

Peace,
Stephanie Scott-Huffman


What I wish everyone knew about Table of Grace.


It's hard to get people to come to church.

So many people don't care for church because they view it as boring, they've been burned and hurt by the church or their experience with church just hasn't been pleasant.

These are just a few reasons we hesitate calling Table of Grace "church". A lot of times we say it's a faith community because that's how we see it. It's a community of people who are on a journey together. Different pasts, paths, beliefs and stories. We envision a community of people who can come together, just as they are and just be.

But the thing is, it is a church. No matter what we want to call it, it's still a church. It's the kind of church that I still believe in. The kind of church that is like a breath of fresh air. The kind of church that you don't have to worry about what to wear or what people will think of you. It's the kind of church that when someone ask "How are you doing", it's not just a nice question, they really want to know. It's a relational church. Where people, their lives and their struggles really matter.

We want Table of Grace to be the church that many have longed for. The church that many have been looking for. It isn't our hope to compete with other churches in the area, to be that cool church that seems to be popular or in style. It is our desire and hope that Table of Grace become the place where people will find acceptance, love, grace, hope, friendship, help, guidance and community at levels they've never experienced anywhere else. Table of Grace is down to earth, genuine, simple, traditional and non-traditional. We are a place of sanctuary for all and when we say all, we mean ALL. No one should be excluded from being a part of God's kingdom.

Do we do things a little differently? Yes, we do. Some days you'll find Lady Gaga, Supertramp, John Lennon or Macy Gray playing at the end of the service, along with hymns, some Christian songs and other music as well-because we believe the gift of music isn't just limited to Christian music. You'll find the kids in the sanctuary with the rest of us through the service, coloring, making things, listening and taking communion. You won't find fancy fixtures that have cost large amounts of money, but you'll find the creativity of the children's art work that reflect the heart of God with things like peace, love, joy and more love. You'll find a casual atmosphere where conversation about what the Pastor is preaching is welcomed. You'll find a variety of people participating in the service, not just Elders and Deacons. You'll find good food after service, laughter, great conversation and sometimes a fun game of something or another will break out.

It is our hope to build a community that feeds to hungry, clothe the naked, offers a hand to the oppressed, helps lift the heavy loads of others, empowers people, walks along side people through the bad and celebrate with each other through the good. We believe that we need each other. We believe that our differences are actually gifts that can be accepted and celebrated. We believe that each of us have amazing things to bring to this world and to one another and that our differences are not to be feared, but embraced. We believe that many people find God in different ways and we respect those ways. We believe that we can learn together, worship together and explore together. We believe that it's ok to ask questions, express doubt and draw our own conclusions.

These are just some things I wish you knew about the Table of Grace. Perhaps one day soon, you will come and get a glimpse of just some of the things that I see.

It's beautiful.

Welcome!

Welcome to the Table of Grace blog site! We are so glad you're here.

Here you'll find service times, location, bible study information and perhaps some insight from Reverend Michelle Scott-Huffman.

Table of Grace is a new faith community. We've been joining together for close to six months now and we've had weekly services for approximately four months. It's been wonderful forming new friendships, learning and worshiping together, creating community and sharing meals together. Reverend Michelle has shared insightful wisdom and encouragement, moving many of us to look within ourselves and to God. Table of Grace is a great place to be and as we move forward in this journey, we hope that you will join us.

Peace be with you.