It is a ritual as old as time and as hallowed as the people and guests we honor. When all my kids were smaller and my family was at its full complement, before the older children started to leave home to make their way in the world, there would be eight people around our table almost every night. Mealtime was (and still is) a big deal and, as I have told people often, most of what we taught our children happened at the table. So much more than just a placeholder for food, a table suggests all the things that make life a glorious and blessed thing—delicious food, of course, but also conversation, prayer, beauty, and the honoring of the image of God in each other.
It is in this mundane setting that something that is necessary for life—food—becomes ritualized into something extraordinary. Around the table, manners are learned, stories are shared, people are heard, thanksgiving is experienced, barbarians are civilized, people are reconciled, and beauty is beheld. In short, body and soul are nurtured and refreshed.
Now, something this glorious doesn’t just happen by chance. In our home, the table was always set. This meant that Teri usually had the children place dishes, glasses, eating utensils, and napkins on the table—in their proper place. She had a small diagram that showed where everything went. (This was especially useful when guests came because then all the silver came out, along with two or three glasses and multiple plates; it is mind-boggling to remember where all this stuff goes.) When all this is done, it is beautiful. It is necessary that it be beautiful because beauty shapes us. In fact, ever since I can remember, we have always had a table with fresh flowers. Teri learned that from Edith Schaeffer, who said, “If you only have enough money for two loaves of bread, sell one and buy flowers.”
Now “setting the table” is not an end in and of itself. I like to see my dining room set—gilded and decked with flowers, candles, and place settings of crystal, china and silver. It is beautiful in its own right, but let’s be honest, the reason we set the table is so we can get on to the serious business of feasting and the healing that comes through good food, drink, love, and good will that is known and felt under the magic of God’s abundance. It is sacramental, really: God’s goodness mediated through the senses of sight, taste, touch, sound and feel. Deep communion and a mingling of souls is the real reason we stage this drama, is it not? We hope to see our natures perfected so that under the weightiness of this goodness we do love God, love people, and love life a little more.
If you understand that metaphor, and I hope you do, then what I am about to say will make sense. This fall we are embarking on an adventure not unlike setting the table for a feast. We are “setting the table” for our St. Patrick family and friends; we are raising money to build new spaces that will help us realize our vision to “Make disciples that embody Christ in the everyday by loving God, loving people and loving life.” When we built our current facility, we knew we couldn’t have everything so we made some sacrifices. Our focus was on three things—a large public space, spacious and beautiful nurseries, and space to disciple our children. We omitted social space, office space and adult educational space. It was all a matter of priority—we had to have a beautiful place to worship and great space for children. Most of our discipleship of adults happens in more intimate settings like homes, restaurants, and coffee shops, so we could live with that.
Now it’s time to further develop our campus to provide spaces for ministry that will help us make more and better disciples, and there is no better metaphor for what we are building in this phase than “setting the table.” In this phase, we will build a playground and an outdoor pavilion for hosting our family feasts. We will finish our kitchen so we can feed family and friends the most delicious food of their lives. We are building offices for our staff where, individually and collaboratively, they have a table from which to work. We are also building large social spaces for our adults and youth. Like setting a table for a feast, there will be beauty in what we build, but the purpose will be to bring families together for deep communion in both body and soul.
We have been working this summer on plans, and by September we will begin to see what the future looks like at St. Patrick. We will do a Generosity Initiative starting the Sunday after Fall Break to talk about how this space will embody and further our values, and we will invite each of our families to invest in what God is doing in and through St. Patrick in the community of Collierville and beyond.
Winston Churchill said, “We shape our buildings and our buildings shape us.” At St. Patrick, we believe that: we believe that “space matters.” We believe that thoughtful living and ministry space is part of what it means to be human and that space can make us more human or less: “space matters.” It is to that end that we will challenge each of you to invest in something that we think will echo into eternity. We desire a place where people want to linger, talk, and share, and where we will see Jesus in the faces of those who sojourn through our space.
So, get ready—I can’t wait to pull back the veil and invite you in to what we think God is calling us to build to aid us in our ministry. Till then, keep this in your prayers and the next time you set your own table, imagine what a table we might set for our family and friends here!