Welcoming Doubters and Disciples at The Table
On any given Wednesday night in downtown Casper, Wyo., a group of once strangers gathers for a shared meal in a small retail shopping center. A store-front space on the upper level has been transformed into a living room-like venue. Through the large panes of glass windows you can glimpse comfortable couches, local art hanging on the walls, and hear chill music setting the ambiance. A simple wooden table near the front of the room holds the symbols of Christian communion: rough-hewn pottery make up a plate and pitcher and chalice. The circular logo in the door welcomes you to “The Table: doubters + disciples together.” Stickers in the window proclaim messages like, “Move Equality Forward” and “Refugees and Immigrants Welcome Here”. Pieces of art inside the venue declare similar sentiment, an illustration of a safety pin is adorned with the words, “All Are Welcome Here,” and a framed graphic next to the tea and coffee station reads, “All you need is Love and a Cup of Coffee”.
Acts of Hospitality
Following the shared meal, the group of now-friends gathers in a circle to reflect and dialogue on shared practices like listening, compassion, action, and hospitality. These acts of hospitality set the tone for the mission of this New Worshiping Community. The Table is a community of doubters and disciples together. This automatically means welcoming the other, the one who believes differently than we do, the one who sees the world through different lenses. We consider doubters askers of critical questions and disciples followers of good teachers.
Our story at The Table started in 2014 in Casper, Wyo. We wanted to start a new church where both doubters and disciples are welcome to share life, dreams, and action for the sake of good, love, peace, and justice.
Our primary teacher at The Table is Jesus, through the story of God’s love found in the Christian tradition. But we also have much to learn from wisdom traditions other than our own. We have a hunch that there is a little bit of doubter and disciple within each of us. And because of this we gather to practice hospitality. To include one another, to look each other in the eye over shared food and hot beverages, to hear each other’s stories and listen to the ways we’ve each been shaped to view the world.
When Tracy* first walked through those glass retail doors into The Table, she recognized a place of religious inclusion unlike any she had experienced before. In July last year, after the Orlando Pulse Night Club shootings in June, The Table hosted a “Pride Reflections Dialogue” for the LGBTQ community in Casper. Tracy helped to organize the event. The purpose was to process in the safety of community the grief and fear felt after the shooting and as identifying as LGBTQ in Wyoming. When bullying and physical attacks increased on minority groups of all kinds across the country after the national elections, Tracy called Pastor Libby to inquire, “Who is next? Who needs protection and a safety zone next? When I think of taking action in this community, I call The Table.” Tracy’s questions prompted The Table to invite a Muslim Imam from a neighboring town for a “Love Thy Muslim Neighbor” evening of interfaith dialogue. So much energy was sparked that night, The Table devoted the entire month of February to asking critical questions around the practice of hospitality as we learn to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds and love our neighbors as ourselves.
God Welcomes the Stranger
Diana Butler Bass, historian and author says that, at its roots, hospitality is salvation. God welcomes the stranger. We have all been strangers because of selfishness and independence and ignorance. But God has set a new table that welcomes all back to belonging. When we deserved to be far off, God brought us in: those who were strangers are now friends. That’s it. That is salvation in a nutshell. Now, we turn around and offer this same salvation-as-hospitality to the world by offering a radically open table and inviting the stranger to come and eat with us.
Romans 12:9-18 (NLT)
“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!
Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.”
Libby Tedder Hugus is pastor of The Table in Casper, Wyo., a community of doubters and disciples together. The Table is part of the 1001 New Worshiping Communities network. She lives on the wild-windy-western frontier with her hilarious husband, Jeremy, and will go to endless lengths to share a delicious cup of tea or coffee with friends. She is co-author of Marks of the Missional Church: Ecclesial Practices for the Sake of the World (Storian Press).
 Name changed to protect privacy
 Video interview of Diana Butler Bass, from The Work of the People, http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/hospitality-and-salvation, accessed 2/15/17