When I was called to be the Rector of St. Timothy’s 26 years ago this month, I was called to a church committed to bringing up children in the Christian faith and life. In order to get to know these children and their families better, I decided to work with the teenagers for a year. After a year of doing this, the assumption was that I would pass on those responsibilities to someone else. Little did I know how much I would enjoy working with these young people, and before I knew it one year turned into nine. After nine years, I decided to stop working directly with the teens, and for most of the last 17 years other staff and members have provided committed leadership to our teenagers.
All that changed at the beginning of this year when a dedicated volunteer decided that he needed to step back from his work with our high school youth group. As a stopgap measure, I decided that I would temporarily lead this group for the remainder of the 2018-19 program year. This temporary solution would give us time to raise up new leadership for the Fall of 2019. Well, guess what? As was the case back in 1993, I am having the time of life with these young people and have signed up to lead them for another year. Shortly after I decided to get involved with this group, a parent of one the teenagers in the group offered to co-lead the group. Ironically, this parent was one of my co-leaders 19 years ago. Go figure!
Why do I want to continue work with these teenagers? Because the Holy Spirit is working through them in an extraordinary way! These teenagers get what the Gospel and the mission of the church is all about. They inspire me.
Let me give you an example: Because some members of the group are preparing to renew their commitment to follow Jesus through the rite of Confirmation, we decided to spend the last few months reflecting on our baptismal promises. The first promise in The Baptismal Covenant is lifted right out of The Acts of the Apostles: “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 304)?” Reflection on this promise led to looking at the centrality of table fellowship—breaking bread—in the ministry of Jesus. We discovered that one-way Jesus showed people what the kingdom of God is like was through who he invited to eat with him. For Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners embodied in microcosm the nature of the new society that God intends for all people. Jesus’ table fellowship practices announced in a powerful way the kind of world God wants to bring into being.
Jesus’ table fellowship ministry has now inspired these teenagers to do the same. In the coming weeks, they will be promoting #Eattogethercincy. Although the date of this event has not been finalized (probably late August), they plan to invite a diverse array of people in Cincinnati to join them for a meal in one of Cincinnati’s parks. Like Jesus they will intentionally reach out to people who don’t usually eat together. They will invite people from other religious traditions, people from all socio-economic groups, people of different races, and so on.
As was the case in Jesus’ time, we live in a society that suffers from religious, racial, and socio-economic divisions. Jesus’ all-inclusive table fellowship didn’t integrate his segregated society over night. What it did was help people see something they otherwise would not have seen: a world where everyone is included—no exceptions. #Eattogether won’t breakdown all of Cincinnati’s divisions, but their hope is that it will show our city an alternative to the segregated status quo.
I thank God for the leadership of these teenagers. Let us follow their lead.