Atlanta, August 2013. Tamara Fowler’s wedding day was fast approaching. The venue was booked, the catering arranged, the guests invited. Her parents were putting the final touches to this lavish event. Then 40 days before the wedding, Tamara called the whole thing off.
I’m not sure how I would have reacted, had I been in the parents’ position. But I love the story of what happened next. Rather than waste the thousands of dollars they’d spent on the event, Tamara’s parents decided to scrap the guestlist and start from scratch, inviting 200 of Atlanta’s homeless population to join them for a four-course dinner.
Can you imagine the scene? People who often didn’t know where their next meal would come from were presented with a lavish four-course dinner, served on gold plates, with crystal stemware. People who would never have interacted shared conversation and celebrated side-by-side.
I’m sure there was also a fair share of awkward moments! Reports said that children looked bewildered as they were offered hors d’oeuvre and wondered whether to take one, or the entire tray. Many were confused by the selection of cutlery before them, unsure which piece was for which course.
But at the end of the day, who cares if people ate profiteroles with a fish-knife!? Everyone had a great time and the Fowlers so enjoyed the experience that they decided to make it an annual event!
I don’t know where they got the idea from, but I can’t help but wonder if it might have been from Jesus?
In Luke 14 he tells this story: A man arranged a lavish banquet and sent out the invitations. When the day arrived the excuses trickled in; family commitments, work pressures, unforeseen events. But rather than leave the house empty and the food uneaten, the master instructed his servant, ‘go into the streets of the city and bring in the poor and needy.’
This parable displays something of the generosity of God. Everybody is welcome at His feast. None of us should be surprised if we find ourselves eating next to someone we didn’t expect to see. All of us should be grateful for an invitation!
It also reflects something of the kind of church we want to build; a community where people from completely different backgrounds can share meals and conversations; where we learn from each other and celebrate the joys and challenges of life in this wonderful city.
I’ve never been in a church before where I get asked so frequently “Is it ok for me to come here, given that I’m not a Christian?” People ask nearly every week. And the answer is a resounding yes!! Anyone is welcome.
Building a community that’s open to all won’t always be easy. It will be messy at times. There may be awkward moments as we misunderstand each other, make mistakes, and maybe use the wrong piece of cutlery on occasions! But like the Fowlers, I’m discovering just how fun it can be…