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OPEN
TABLES

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"The event was inspiring. It was a safe environment in which to share our thoughts on faith in today's world." -- Lisa Kay Bohan 

"It was such a nice evening to hear and to understand more about each other's faiths. There was a great sense of unity at our table, and we felt very connected in that we all have more in common than differences." -- Racquel Blake  

This was my first Open Tables event, and I was impressed with the hospitality of the hosting church, open-mindedness of the attendees, and the desire to openly exchange their thoughts and experiences. It was a great opportunity to build bridges and remove stereotypes in our diverse city. -- Athar Sayed

OPEN TABLES: To build relationships based on our shared humanity that go beyond the divides of tribalism.

Introduction


MeckMIN (Mecklenburg Metropolitan Interfaith Network) promotes interfaith collaboration to foster understanding, compassion and justice. We envision a community that lives by the highest values and core virtues of its rich faith traditions and respects the dignity of every person. 


We live out these values by bringing together people from different faith perspectives and promoting congregational engagement through dialogue and fellowship. 


Open Tables, a program launched in the summer of 2019, aims to build substantive relationships among our diverse congregations through fellowship and food. One important aspect of this program is involving members, and not just clergy, of each congregation. 


We hope for 75-100 people at each event. Smaller congregations can certainly team up (and we’ll help make those connections as needed.) 


Summary of the Concept


At an Open Tables gathering, diverse congregations come together for fellowship and dining; with the goal of building relationships based on our shared humanity that go beyond the divides of tribalism.

  • Hosting Congregations: The host congregation provides a space with tables and a welcoming environment and commits to doing the outreach to have their own congregation members show up in good numbers. 

 

  • Dining: The host congregation may choose to a) cater or b) create a checklist for a pot-luck dinner which is shared by each congregation involved beforehand. Dietary restrictions should be made clear – a plant based diet works for almost everyone and is healthy to boot! 

 

  • Visiting Congregations: Each visiting congregation makes the commitment to doing the outreach to have their own congregation members show up in good numbers – and to helping with the pot-luck if that’s what the host congregation prefers. 

  • Both hosting and visiting congregations may want to share ahead of time the guidelines for dialogue listed below. MeckMIN will connect congregations willing to host with congregations of other faiths and/or racial/ethnic make-ups willing to attend. 

  • People from each community will be seated in a mixed arrangement at each table to create diversity in dialogue. Tables will be given a few talking points to discuss from both a faith and humanity perspective. 

Conversation Agreements

 

The Conversation Agreements are the secret sauce and foundation for a successful Living Room Conversation. We refer to them because they are a part of every step of the process: your original intention to have a conversation, inviting others to participate, the language you use, and the environment you create conversation itself.

Our Conversation Agreements are carefully designed to foster and encourage understanding between all participants. When you honor the Conversation Agreements there is no real need for a facilitator or moderator, anyone can run a Living Room Conversation.

Want to some more help understanding the “why” behind each agreement? Click here to unpack the Conversation Agreements. 

 

  • Be curious and listen to understand. Conversation is as much about listening as it is about talking. You might enjoy exploring how others’ experiences have shaped their values and perspectives.

  • Show respect and suspend judgment. People tend to judge one another. Setting judgement aside opens you up to learning from others and makes them feel respected and appreciated. Try to truly listen, without interruption or crosstalk.

  • Note any common ground as well as any differences. Look for areas of agreement or shared values that may arise and take an interest in the differing beliefs and opinions of others.

  • Be authentic and welcome that from others. Share what’s important to you. Speak from your experience. Be considerate of others who are doing the same.

  • Be purposeful and to the point. Do your best to keep your comments concise and relevant to the question you are answering. Be conscious of sharing airtime with other participants.

  • Own and guide the conversation. Take responsibility for the quality of your participation and the conversation as a whole. Be proactive in getting yourself and others back on track if needed. Use an agreed upon signal like the “time out” sign if you feel the agreements are not being honored.


Program Structure 


At least one representative of MeckMIN will be present to facilitate the process.


6:30 - 6:40 | Guests will be greeted by the host congregation and will be given stickers with their name and congregation. The food will be lined up by numbers from the checklist on two rows of tables for self-serve. Guests will then be seated at the tables where folks will introduce themselves and take a look at the questions. MeckMIN will provide each table with flash cards containing a few questions and some scriptural quotes connecting faith, our family and our social lives. These cards will serve as the basis for discussion.


6:40 - 6:50 | A MeckMIN or host representative will start with a small 5 minute introduction thanking the host congregation, welcoming all participating congregations, outlining the evening, and briefly reading through the House Rules.

 

6:50 - 7:50 | Everyone will then line up to dish up their plates. Once everyone at a table has food, they may begin their discussion.


7:50 - 8:00 | MeckMIN or host representative will invite one or two people from a few tables to share something they learned or benefitted from over the course of the evening. The host will close with a short interfaith prayer.

For more information or to commit to taking part, please contact MeckMIN Executive Director, LeDayne McLeese Polaski at ledayne@meckmin.org or call 704-565-5455.