Reaching across the table

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By David Whitlock

With his gray hair, radiant smile, erect posture, suit coat and dress tie, he could have passed as an emissary sent by an official to deliver an important message.  I guessed he had something to say to me, something urgent it seemed. After briefly introducing himself, he quickly got to the point.

“You know what you are?”

I had a feeling I was about to find out.

I had just finished participating in a ceremony renewing the wedding vows for two of my friends, Tommy and Lottie Robey, who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. The Robeys are practicing Roman Catholics, but they also attend the church I pastor.  
“We’re Catholic on Saturday and Baptist on Sunday,” Tommy teases.

You might find the Robeys in a Catholic Church on Saturday afternoon and a Baptist one on Sunday morning, but you’ll also find them living their faith the other five days of the week as well.

I’ve never tried to convert them for there is nothing to convert them to; we’re already on the same team.

I wasn’t surprised nor did I hesitate to say “yes,” when their priest called and asked if I would participate in a ceremony renewing the Robeys’ vows.

When I arrived at St. Charles Catholic Church, Father Jim welcomed me with open arms and a warm smile before walking me through my part in the ceremony.

I’ve been a participant in weddings and funerals where pastors begrudgingly share the service. But Father Jim included me in every aspect of the worship event, even to the extent of having me stand next to him during his Eucharistic prayer before communion. (It was like having a seat behind home plate at a baseball game.)

A short time later, the Emissary greeted me.

“It’s one word,” he declared.

“Gatherer. You’re a gatherer.”

Recognizing my puzzled look, he continued.

“You bring people together. The world has enough dividers; we need more gatherers.

I received it as the compliment he intended it to be.

At the reception, I was seated at a table populated with a mix of Baptists and Roman Catholics.

Sitting there among the believers, listening to the banter, I thought of an Anglican whose methods for evangelism and discipleship gave rise to another body of the faithful, the Methodists. His name is John Wesley.  In 1750, Wesley delivered a sermon entitled, “Catholic Spirit.” The Scripture he chose was II Kings 10:15: “And when he was departed thence, he lighted on Jehonadab the son of Rechab coming to meet him: and he saluted him, and said to him, Is thine heart right, as my heart is with thy heart? And Jehonadab answered, It is. If it be, give me thine hand. And he gave him his hand.”

What a beautiful question: “Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?”

And I love the invitation that follows: “If it is, give me your hand.”

The kind words of the Emissary came to mind. As much as I appreciated his gracious spirit, I wish I had told him I wasn’t really the gatherer. The Robeys, the priest, the people reaching across the tables, fellowshipping because of the One they hold in common---they were already gatherers.

I was simply there to give them my hand.

Contact David B. Whitlock, Ph.D. at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com.