I’m busy making a round table prototype. I call it a prototype, because it is a round wooden top that will sit on top of a square card table. It is, in effect , a sort of add-on that makes a square into a circle.
It’s not that the square card tables are not themselves quite functional. It is simply that they are also limiting. Basically four people can sit comfortably at a square card table. Oh, someone can certainly pull up a chair and join in, but they will always be perched at a corner and with a leg directly in front of them. Square tables are very good for four people card games. They are meant for foursomes and work wonderfully to that end. Just don’ try to be a fifth person trying to join in.
Which is why I love round tables. There is a sense of openness and “spread-ability” to a round table. You can always somehow make room for one more; in fact, round tables have this inviting element to them that communicates the gentle message: “Of course there is a place for you—come on everybody, squeeze together so Kerry can find his place.”
When I think of the church at its worst, I sometimes think of it in terms of people all tightly gathered into their familiar square table huddled foursomes where there is neither room nor welcome. When I dream of the church at her best, however, I sense it is more like a lovely huge expansive round table where not only is there always room for someone else, it feels like the party just won’t be as wonderful until we are all squeezed in together, elbow to elbow, smiling across at a newfound sister or brother who has just arrived, and of course we can still snuggle up more to ensure a space for the next person.
(I suppose, in the same way, our structured architecture with stiff pews can often communicate a message of rigidity, unmoving traditions, and neatly determined order that is never to be changed. If I had a magic wand, I would not only replace our pews with chairs that could be strewn around in any old higgledy-piggledy way that we wanted from moment to moment, but which could also be piled out of the way altogether for those times when the Holy Spirit was moving so powerfully that you just had to make more room for dancing!!)
St. Andrew’s has often described itself as being a church without walls—which I take to mean that we want to have this expansive, inviting atmosphere where no one is barricaded, no one is left without a place to draw near to Jesus, and no one is left wondering if there is room for them. Maybe that is why I want to make us a whole lot more round table tops—as one more tangible expression that there is room here, always room here, for someone else, and especially for the one who was afraid that they would never discover either place nor welcome.
In the eastern orthodox tradition of Christianity, the icons of the Holy Trinity always are of the Father, Son and Spirit sitting together a circle of mutual loving regard, interest and joy. In that same artistic mode, there is also a wondrous sense of inviting space, because the very nature of the holy love shared within the Trinity of God is that it is not only regarding of the other Persons of the Trinity, but radiates the hospitableness of that holy love that radiates out a welcoming embrace to all.
When Jesus told the parable of the Great Banquet, he ended it by saying that the master ordered his servants to go into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. When that amazing invitation to the most unlikely had been completed, the servants replied that there was still room at the banquet table, so the master sent his servants farther out to the roads and country lanes with the instruction that they should compel even more to come in, so that his house would be full.
What a lovely reminder to the church that the master wants his tale to be full, even as his love is overflowing. Round tables remind me that we have a lot more welcoming, inviting, squeezing in, hospitality-showing, sharing and celebrating yet to do.
What a cool metaphor for an inviting church!