Relationships and resources are sometimes all it takes to keep a person from stumbling across the razor-thin line that separates stability from crisis.
That concept is central to Open Table, a movement that connects individuals or families in need — Brothers and Sisters — with faith-based communities. These Brothers and Sisters typically are facing extraordinary circumstances, from aging out of foster care to working toward family reunification.
UMFS brought Open Table to Virginia, one of 28 states in which the rapidly expanding movement operates. The commonwealth’s first Tables were up and running earlier this year after volunteers completed the required training and Brothers and Sisters had been placed.
Reveille United Methodist Church, River Road UMC, Chester UMC, New Life UMC and Second Presbyterian Church of Richmond all have Tables. Tables at First Unitarian Universalist and Gum Spring UMC will soon be operational.
As many as a dozen volunteers may sit on a Table. The commitment is substantial and requires a minimum of one weekly meeting with a Brother or Sister for a one-year period. “By that time, bonds have formed, table members have become family, and lives have been transformed,” said Ellie Speer, an Open Table volunteer at Reveille UMC.
Indeed, the goal is to provide a wholly transformative experience. It’s been that way since Open Table’s inception some 12 years ago. But how exactly does a Table facilitate transformation?
“God calls us to care for one another and has given each of us gifts that must be shared,” Ellie said. “Open Table gives us the opportunity to adhere to the call and share our gifts and the knowledge gleaned from simply living.”
Yes, it’s imperative that Tables provide Brothers and Sisters with a variety of support —from driving lessons to assistance finding housing. But also important is fostering a sense of community.
“Bottom line is it’s about relationships,” said Rev. Dr. Jim Davis of Chester UMC. “And building relationships to help them through issues they’re facing and that are holding them back.”
River Road UMC’s Amy King has volunteered for a number of missions over the years and saw something special in Open Table. Her other mission work is fulfilling, she said, but sometimes difficult because “we don’t really get to know the individual and we don’t really get to experience change.”
But Shante, River Road UMC’s Open Table Sister, will happily tell you that’s not the case with this endeavor.
“Open table has changed my life,” Shante said. “It’s important to me because I know that I am not alone no matter what life throws at me; that I can overcome any obstacle and I also have a great support group by my side. Open Table is not just my support, but they are my family.”
To learn more about Open Table, join us February 13-14 for the UMFS Open Table Conference at the UMFS main campus in Richmond. Contact Kelly Trump for more information: email@example.com or 804.353.4461, ext. 1212