Faith Works 11-19-16
Around a family table
Tomorrow, on Sunday afternoon Nov. 20, the Newark Area Ministerial Association is hosting a community Thanksgiving service.
Originally planned for Second Presbyterian Church, their pipe organ renovation has not quite followed the original timetable, so their organist, Rick Black (you may read about him on the front pages of this paper from time to time, as a county commissioner) will be sitting in at Central Christian Church in Newark, just up Mt. Vernon Road from downtown.
This 2:00 pm service will include a number of clergy and church leaders from different Christian traditions, and yes, I'll be your host. Welcome!
I've been involved in what we call "NAMA" since 1989; as an organization, it has helped to get the Licking County Jail Ministry off the ground when the new justice center opened in 1988, participated in the launch of the Licking County Coalition for Housing in 1992, and was deeply involved in the start of the Licking County Coalition of Care from 2003 to its formal establishment in 2005.
And it is, in a way, family.
Like any family, people come and go; there are deaths, and new births (well, arrivals!) along with move-aways and retirements. The faces change and our faces, for some of us who have been around that long, also change – or at least hair color does. Patriarchs and matriarchs come to the fore, and fade into the background, but the stories continue. We each play a role, and family dynamics being what they are, those roles are sometimes innate, and often we find ourselves being "pushed" into certain postures by circumstance and surroundings. The wacky uncle, the quiet brother, the caring sister, the nurturing mother. We may not see each other for longish stretches, but the community tends to snap back into place pretty quickly when we gather together.
I have the privilege and opportunity to be part of two other professional communities that meet once or twice a year, as we all do our work largely apart through the seasons, but have our set times to gather and reflect together.
At those fall meetings, which tend to be a full day with presentations, discussions, and a meal together with more to say after the table is cleared, I found myself thinking about how these eclectic gatherings are still, very much, family rituals.
I recall when I was a very junior member of each, said little (hard to believe, I know), and often did not understand much of what was said when things got down to brass tacks. I looked for someone I knew and stuck close to them.
But over the years, I got more comfortable with most of the group, sat where I would, talked to whom I wished and in the general conversation, and had a clearer sense of my own role, and of the body as a whole. At one of these meetings, an elder of the crew said something I disagreed with, and I spoke up to say so, and realized with a shock that others were listening to me as one of the . . . elders. Yikes.
This week is Thanksgiving, a high holy day for families of all sorts. Most of us remember being at the kids' table in the kitchen, or the card table on the sun porch. And I suspect many of you reading this can reflect on how you've moved to where you're more a part of the proceedings, someone who knows your place, and who now can speak to the gathering in ways you couldn't before.
Let's all recall, newcomers and elders, that at family tables, formal or informal, related by blood or gathered on other terms, that we each have the opportunity to make others feel at home, to know themselves as welcome, by what we say and how we invite participation. I pray that we all have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving, and that all of us do what we can to extend the table and our welcoming spirit to those who are nervous, anxious, hesitant, new. May the gift of hospitality be given at every holiday table in the week ahead.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's looking forward to roasting some Brussels sprouts this week. Tell him how you put leaves in your family table at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.