Table Rules (“Crowded Table,” Highwomen Cover)

General Conference starts today, and I am thinking about this song and what might happen these next few weeks.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I was introduced to this song by clergywomen colleagues.
We were all sitting around a fire pit on a clergy retreat two years ago (I had my guitar…) when several of them started belting it out. I felt immediate shame that I’d somehow missed this amazing song from “The Highwomen,” but such gratitude to be able to learn.

BTW: This morning’s metaphor is that if you type “Highwomen” into Pages?
Autocorrect suggests “Highwaymen.”

This is a metaphor for a lot of things, including what’s going on at General Conference.

In a sense, General Conference is an every-four-year exercise in defining the “table rules” for all United Methodists all over the world.
We debate them for a week.

We vote on them for a week.

And then we live with them for four years, until we do it all again.

I don’t think it’s an accident that the United Methodist Church —God willing— seems to stand on the precipice of change in 2024. I think it has everything to do with the inclusion of women, People of Color, and the LGBTQ community in a new voting majority (where we men are still there, of course…conservative, moderate, progressive…). We might finally rid ourselves of the harmful “table rules” that have limited our ministries with the LGBTQ community for five decades.

Like the song says, this has been like nurturing a garden, over many years…hoping that the seeds of inclusion will grow. And our newer generation of leaders give me incredible hope.

I am hopeful for our new denomination. We are not going to be a Far Left denomination. But as I wrote the other day, we credibly could be transformed into a denomination that more closely mirrors where our culture is today. We’ll very likely be “Center/Left” and very likely see votes that mirror this reality. We will be a church where everybody who is willing to be at the table will be given a place.

In a real sense, all that’s happening at General Conference is a change in the “table rules.”

But of course, behind that last sentence are fifty years of heartbreak, lots of misinformation today, along with current-day anticipation.

All the Progressive/Moderate coalition wants…all we have ever wanted…is a table where all who wish to be at the table, can be.

When I give the invitation at Kessler Park that “everyone is welcome at the table of holy communion,” I can always tell some visitors aren’t too sure.

Yes, we really mean it.
And maybe, just maybe, our denomination is about to finally mean it too.

But, those visitors know what we all know…that the mostly men-run Church of Jesus over the centuries has often written very restrictive “table rules.” “Table Rules” which, IMHO, are counter to the entire POINT of Jesus’ coming. They’ve been to other Churches —sometimes other Methodist Churches— where they haven’t been welcome.

In the Gospels, Jesus often eats around a crowded table with his friends. And! Religiously devout men COMPLAIN ABOUT IT.
This, dear friends, *should have” always been a metaphor for Jesus-followers today.

In our own time, far too many religiously devout make the same mistakes those Gospel Pharisees do. They complain about who gets invited, how they act, and who sits where. They complain about the table rules.

I can’t promise you that the United Methodist Church will finally do the right thing in Charlotte this week. But as I watch the proceedings from afar, I’ll be in constant prayer.

And I’ll keep singing this song about a crowded table where all are welcome; which, it seems to me, could have only been written by a group of powerful women:

“The door is always open
Your picture’s on my wall
Everyone’s a little broken
And everyone belongs
Yeah, everyone belongs”

May it be so, Holy God.
May it be so.

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