Set the Table
by maron gaffron
Set the table for who’s coming.
This idea (the figurative notion of preparing in advance for the diverse congregation we desire) would be my number one take away from the Multi-Cultural Leadership Conference that I attended in early November of this year. But God had impressed a more literal depiction of this concept on my heart back in September: to literally set my table.
In August, I was informed that our October Prayer Gathering would be centered around the theme of racial reconciliation. Being bi-racial, I am all too familiar with the term “racial reconciliation” and I am keenly aware of its implications on both sides. While the intended end result is love and unity, to many the response to such an invitation is an eye-rolling, “Oh, here we go again!” Whenever I am involved in a service such as this, my question is always, “How can I best foster an environment of mutual healing, and what should my role be?”
God had already begun to place some ideas in Vernon Piercy’s heart, one of our worship team members, pertaining to racial reconciliation, so when I asked him if he was available to help me with October’s Prayer Gathering, he said yes immediately. He also asked if he could invite some of his friends (worship leaders from around the area) to join us. We wanted a balance of Grace musicians as well as guest musicians, for the purpose of representing to our congregation a diversified, united team. This team included Grace volunteers: Vernon, myself, Ephraim, Scott Naylor, Lauryn Russel, and Miles McGuire. It also included pro-bono volunteers: J. Thomas, Deb Allen-Brown, and Shawn Davis (all friends of Vernon, unfamiliar to Grace). It was an exciting assembly of top notch musicians. The music would be stellar, but I still had one nagging concern: how to avoid the appearance of tokenism?
All three of Vernon’s invited guests were African American. I did not want them to feel like we invited them solely because of their blackness. My desire was that we develop a sense of true community between all the musicians before we took the stage Wednesday night. After all, this was not a concert. This was something much more profound. We were to help facilitate healing. We would be engaging in spiritual warfare like a special-ops team. In such case, we’d better get to know one another.
So, I set the table. I had everyone over to my house for dinner (before our rehearsal, that way we could skip the introductions on Sunday night, and come to practice focused and ready). I had never hosted that many people for dinner in my life! Introductions were awkward. I was nervous as 12 people sat around my table.
Initially, we stuck to topics common to each of us: children and pets. Boy, did we spend an inordinate amount of time discussing our pets. As we spoke, there was laughter and one could sense the ice breaking. But would we keep it surface-y for the rest of the night? I began to pray inwardly, “God, if you want us to go deeper…” Just then, Vernon helped us turn the corner. We began to discuss why the topic of racial reconciliation was important to each of us. We discussed why diversity has been a difficult thing for the church to maintain. We talked openly about our differences. By the end of the night, one person made the comment, “I wish we’d recorded this, just to show people how it can be done!” We were truly united and made ready for the work ahead, because we had come to the table.