BSM Featured in the Labs@Light City Baltimore!

May 4, 2018

This year, BSM was invited to participate in Light City Baltimore, produced by the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts. Light City is the nation’s only large-scale international light and ideas festival, inviting the public to be immersed in light, art, and innovation. In conjunction with a nighttime light-art festival, Light City hosted a series of “labs” from April 18 to April 21. The Labs@LightCity were a series of educational and creative panels, highlighting local and regional innovators in fields such as health, education, art, and food. Celebrating its third year in 2018, Labs@LightCity is one of the largest and most unique social innovation convenings in the US. Each day emerging voices and established thinkers explored the innovations and practices that build stronger, more equitable cities. Each Lab explored the future of society and every attendee will have the opportunity to learn, network and be heard.

On Saturday, April 21 BSM’s own Devin Johns (Social Engagement Manager) participated in the FoodLab, sharing stories of BSM’s practice of radical hospitality and the importance of the table. Read the manuscript of her TED-style talk, entitled “A Place at the Table” below!

“A Place at the Table”
I am so honored and grateful to have this opportunity to share with you stories from the redeemingly beautiful Broad Street Ministry, where we practice radical hospitality in Center City Philadelphia. To start, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions to think about over our time together: what does it mean to you to be invited to a table to share a meal? And, what does it mean to you to invite others to join you at a table to share a meal?

In the next few minutes, you’ll hear how invitations to tables allowed our non-profit to blossom out of a scrappy, artistic little worshiping community into a vast community of folks seeking to extend invitations and support to our most vulnerable neighbors in Philly. I’ll share with you our ethos of the table, the impact of the people gathered around our tables in community, and by the end, a story about a table that doesn’t even have any food on it.

Since our worshipping community started nearly 13 years ago, we’ve said something along the lines of this, each and every Sunday:

“Whether you come from the north, the south, the east, the west – there is a place at this table for you. Whether you’ve never been to this table before, you come every week, or haven’t been here in a while – there is a place at this table for you. Whether you are full of joy, of sorrow, of faith, or of doubt – there is a place at this table for you. So come. The table has been made ready, all that is missing is you.”

We say these words as we invite worshipers to the communion table to receive a meal of simple bread and grape juice. For those who come to the table, they find community, compassion, grace and forgiveness, and both bodily and spiritual sustenance.

In a similar fashion, we share the same wide-open, intentional invitation to over 200 people – often people who have been refused a place at other tables – who take their place at Broad Street’s lunch tables Monday through Friday for a meal and secular social services. For those who come to our tables, they find a creative, fresh, healthy meal prepared with artistry and love by our high-class chefs and kitchen team.

At Broad Street, when we experience or take part in social change and transformation, we find that food assists us in extending the invitation to others to join us. In Sunday worship and at weekday meals and services, we find that food brings people to the table, and that’s where the transformation and magic begins.

You’ll see some food eye candy scrolling on the screen behind me. But, the fact of the matter is, at least in my experience and opinion, the food is just one of the things on the table – and I daresay, not even the most important element. When a person takes their place at our tables, our mission is to ensure that they find radical welcome through community, compassion, grace, and sustenance – just as if they were to choose to join our worshiping community on Sundays.

What I love most about our tables at Broad Street is the meticulous and sometimes absurdly intentional attention we pay to setting the tables. You see, our chefs are not the only ones concerned with mise en place –a French culinary team translating to “everything in its place.” We set our 6-top, round wooden tables with bright and beautiful tablecloths, centerpieces, and polished silverware and surrounded by creatively hand-painted chairs. We pay such attention to the mise en place of the table, the chairs, the dining room, the music, and the meal so that each person knows that a community of attentive, caring individuals has been waiting and preparing for them and is ready to welcome them the moment they arrive.

For our meal guests who have come to Broad Street for food, we hope that they find so much more. That they find security, warmth, and community with our volunteers, staff, and other meal guests. That they feel dignified and worthy of being a part of that community. And, that they feel empowered to create and extend that community to the people sitting next to them and across from them and all around them at the table.

Now, my job at Broad Street – as I imagine you’ve figured out by now – is not that of chef. My job is overturn those tables, flip those very same tables that folks dined at earlier in the day, and transform them into gathering spaces for dialogue, mutual support, for laughter, and for empathetic listening.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to coordinate a community conversation on capital punishment and incarceration on Good Friday at Broad Street. I had a team of college students from California who had spent the week with me in Philly exploring racial injustice in the criminal justice system, digging into both sides of the debate surrounding the death penalty, and learning about the prison system. We racked our brains, studied, talked, read, researched as our form of mise en place – preparing the tables for a respectful, open civic dialogue. On the night of the event, we set the tables with table cloths, with art, and had smooth jazz vibes playing softly to set the tone. And then the people came to take their place at the table.

At one particular table, we had the following: three guests of our meals and services, two living with mental illness and one who was quite intoxicated – conditions and states of being that would often condemn and disinvite them to most other tables; there was a young father who had just begun worshiping at Broad Street on Sundays; a woman who volunteers with our kiddos during Sunday worship; a man who was a lawyer in the Attorney Generals’ office; a young female pastor; and, my brave, curious college student acting as small group facilitator who asked of them the following two questions: do people deserve to die for crimes they’ve committed? And, do we as a society have the right to decide when someone dies?

Now – those are two questions that I feel squeamish and a bit anxious about discussing at a table with even my closest colleagues, friends, or family. And here were 8 people, taking their own places at the table, bringing their opinions, their passion and experience, their questions, their openness and vulnerability to a discussion about death and justice.

These diverse 8 people who may never have had the opportunity to be in community with one another all found themselves at this table, having hard, honest dialogue after having previously taken their places at tables to partake of a meal – whether it was at communion or a weekday meal at Broad Street. But at this Good Friday table, it wasn’t food that was nourishing – there wasn’t even food on the table. Those gathered at this table were nourished by community and respectful dialogue that assured each person of their worth, their voice, and their value lending to the possibility of social change and transformation.

As I was floating around the room, eavesdropping on the tables’ conversations, I was overjoyed by the depth of the conversation and the respectful listening, and it took every ounce of my being to stay calm, cool, and composed, and not do *this* until everyone left for the night at the end of the event.

In all seriousness though – before we move into a time for your questions, I have a few questions for you to consider:

• what tables do you find yourself invited to, or not invited to, and who else has a place at those tables?
• Who do you invite to your table and why? How do you choose?
• How do you set the table, with food or other elements, in hopes of transforming your guests from feeling depleted and hungry to nourished and full?

I hope you’ll allow those questions to percolate, but for now, I’m eager to hear what questions and comments you have for me. The table has been made ready, all that is missing is you.