On Saturday night I attended a dinner run at New Hope Baptist Church in Melbourne. A joint effort of New Hope and nearby Anglican and Churches of Christ churches “Dinner Tonite” has been running for a couple of years. The premise is simple: if you need a meal you can get one here and it’s free.
I sat across the table from a man named Tom . Unkempt, unshaven, he took the initiative to introduce himself. He gladly volunteered his life story – a nervous breakdown that saw him lose his business, his marriage and become estranged from one of his children. He had been coming to Dinner Tonite for two years and loved it. After he finished his meal he eyed off mine. “Do you think I could have one of your sausages?” he asked. After I surrendered it he asked for another.
To my right sat a Nigerian family. They had just arrived in Australia where the father, Titus, is enrolled to undertake a Doctorate in Theology. New Hope was providing accommodation for them.
Between Tom and Titus sat Allan, senior pastor of New Hope, a Canadian living and ministering in Australia. I watched as Allan gave his attention to this newly landed Nigerian family, expressing welcome and interest.
A woman in her fifties approached the table and spoke to Danny, another of the pastors. “I’ve got me court case this week Danny” she announced. The tone with which she spoke exuded confidence that Danny knew what it was all about and that he cared. And he did.
Stories like these were repeated around the room which was abuzz with conversation and laughter as the disadvantaged and the advantaged, the mentally ill and the mentally more functional, the faithful and the faithless, shared fellowship.
And in that half hour or so I was there I caught a glimpse of the kingdom of God – a kaleidescope of humanity sharing food, life and friendship without pretence, rank or judgement, at the table of a welcoming God.