For awhile now, some of the leaders of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in St. Paul, Minnesota have wondered, “how can we communicate better with the people in our faith community and those who want to be ‘in the loop’ with us?” We are a diverse community. Our congregation of @ 330 people is at least a quarter if not a third children age twelve and under, and twelve non-Western nations are represented including Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Malaysia and Jamaica.
We are young and old, male and female, black, white and every shade in-between, students and workers, wealthy and struggling to make ends meet. Although as a group we tend to be politically progressive, we also have a few conservative members. We also have people all over the theological spectrum. Many of us became Episcopalians as adults, coming from Baptist, Catholic, Methodist and Pentecostal backgrounds – just to name a few.
We come from many different neighborhoods. While there are a significant number of parishioners from Minneapolis and St. Paul, there is also a huge Northern Suburbs contingent. All this is to say we don’t usually bump into each other at the grocery store. We thus need places to get to know each other more deeply during the week, and to explore the faith and God we’ve dedicated our lives too. My hope is that Open Table can be one of these places.
St. Matthew’s is also a porous community. We have lots of university professors and students and thus lots of turnover. We’ve turned over at least 50% in the last six years and there are lots of pros and cons to that. One of the major pros is that we are open to new people, new ideas and new leadership. We try to get new people involved as soon as possible, to bring them from the margins to the center of our community as quickly and naturally as possible. The downside is that it getting to know someone, really know someone, takes time. It’s easy to become a church of strangers. We want our faith community to be more than a place to share pleasantries about the weather. We want a faith community we can live, love, cry and grapple with, people to share our theological ideas and struggles with, people Christ will work through to help us become the men and women God created us to be.
We are also interested in conversations and relationships with those outside our church. What do you care about? How do you see God moving in and through your life and the world? Why do you go to church, or why not, and what do Christians need to know as they seek to participate in God’s work in the world in this day and age?
Thus begins St. Matthew’s Open Table. To begin this grand experiment I’ve invited a panel of clergy and lay theologians to share essays exploring the connections between their faith and life. I ask you to read and respond to their posts with respect, honoring the time and personal vulnerability they reflect. Likewise, other respondents are invited to agree, disagree, and add other thoughts and reflections, but all the while remembering St. Benedict’s admonition to regard the other “as Christ.”
I look forward to gathering with you around this virtual table for conversation, mutual learning, and the chance to learn more about God and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in 2011. My prayer is that one day we will not only gather around this table, but also around God’s table as we join together in God’s abundant feast.
Blair Pogue, Rector
St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church