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A Common Table

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by Nancy Wilson

Have you ever sat in the pew Sunday morning, listened to Matthew invite you to “wrestle with scripture” and then wonder to yourself—“How is it he thinks I’m going to do that?  Wrestle with whom?  I don’t have an assignment like giving a sermon to the whole congregation to ‘inspire’ me to work hard enough to actually wrestle in a meaningful way.”

Table Groups are one of the ways our church encourages me to dive deeply enough to truly wrestle with scripture, a topic, a book. An ongoing Table Group provides me a trusted community of other members wrestling with the scripture. I have enjoyed several Table Group experiences—two focused on race issues, and others focused more on Christian fellowship around a theme, topic or season such as Lent.

The thought-provoking books and church members who bring a breadth of experience and depth of thought and knowledge have helped me get down in the trenches and really examine what I believe, why I believe it and what I might need to change or reconsider about things I have been taught from childhood and as an adult. I have delighted in the company of other members, but sometimes self-examination has made my time with God pretty challenging. I’ll admit to spending plenty of time looking at the person in the mirror and struggling with the lessons I’m learning versus the lessons I grew up with—or with the feelings rising up from deep within me. One challenge has been trying to identify why I feel out of sync with God—is it fear?  Is it anger? Do I resent change? Do I lack the courage to step up and make the things I’m learning a real part of my daily life? There is a big difference between “getting it” intellectually and actually loving in the many ways we may be called to love—personally, politically, societally.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned through involvement with Table Groups is that it takes time to work through lessons in our spiritual journey. I can’t just read the book, take the test and move on to the next lesson. The issues raised in discussion keep recurring in my everyday experiences. How can I make this scripture real in my life today? How can I react differently next time I am in such-and-such situation? I can volunteer, I can contribute money, I can get involved—those are all good and worthwhile…but I think the biggest challenge for me is to have the courage to step outside my comfort zone; to say and do things in one-on-one situations that are uncomfortable, but where the words I choose and the compassion I might be able to convey are undeniably delivered. The ideas and experiences of Table Group members give me examples of how to participate in all of these ways. As Rev. Sarah reminds us, “It is all that easy and it is all that hard.”

Table Groups meet in homes, restaurants, coffee shops, and locations around the city. Commit to one of our fall groups at phpc.org/tablegroups.

A Year in the Life of our PHPC Young Adult Volunteer

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First of all I owe all of you, my PHPC family a massive thank you for sending me out to Atlanta to serve as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV for short). And a big thank you to all of my donors. My year as a YAV has been filled with many trials, adventures, and joy’s, this year has truly changed my life. As my time working at Mercy Community Church in Atlanta, a church for folks struggling with homelessness, is coming to a close, I have been feeling nostalgic and reflecting on the year. And I wanted to share some of what I have learned.

Some of you know, the big reason I became a YAV was to answer the question of “Where is God calling me in life?” Tall order, I know… However through much discerning through this past year I feel I have a much better idea of where that path is. My gifts and passions are leading me to either continue to work with the marginalized groups of the world through social work. Or to empower our youth to find their own voice in the struggles of adolescents and to inspire them to live by the gospel through youth ministry. 

On my first day at Mercy Church, I met a woman who struggled with her mental health and came in and out of lucidness. Most of the time her reality was different than my own, but I could tell she wanted me to listen. When she came to she told me usually she is disregarded and ignored, and that she greatly appreciated me just being there and listening. Those few moments have taught me so much… Half of the battle for anyone, experiencing anything is just being there… being present with them. Whether they are struggling with depression, grief, or poverty, just be present with them, and listen even if you don't understand. It is one of the greatest signs of love you can show to someone.

Another day, I overheard one of the members of our congregation say “Mercy is the only place I can go and be looked at in the eye…” Those words struck me like a brick wall… Then I thought about my own daily life and how most people look at me. This moment taught me a lot about my own privilege and I reflected on this for quite some time. Everyday, I can expect to be looked in the eye by most of whom I come across. I can find water when I am thirsty. Everyday I can voice my opinion and know that I am heard. That day it struck me, that a lot of my friends on the street do not have those same experiences and privileges.

One question that has been asked of me a few times throughout the year was to explain my blog title (which for anyone who’s read it, I am sorry there are so few posts…) “The Breath of Life is Whisperings of Love” Which to me encompasses how I believe little acts of love can change the world. Mahatma Gandhi said, “in a gentle way, you can shake the world!” and I believe that gentleness he was talking about was that of love. The gentle act of being present for someone, the gentle act of looking someone in the eye with a smile, or the gentle act of being a voice for the voiceless.

The Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) Program is a national program of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The YAV Program is a faith-based year of service for young people, ages 19-30, in 22 sites around the world and in the United States. YAVs accompany local agencies working to address root causes of poverty and reconciliation while exploring the meaning and motivation of their faith in intentional community with peers and mentors. For more information or to apply, check out www.pcusa.org/yav 

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