I once came across a fishing trawler where the table in the mess had been sawn in half and made into two. It turned out that the skipper was a member of an extreme Christian denomination that believed that members should not eat with non-members. His son, a non-member, was amongst the rest of the vessel’s crew. Making one table into two was the way his father got around the issue. Not quite perhaps in the spirit of the table fellowship which is so integral to the gospels! Jesus is often to be found at a table and was often criticised for the “unclean” company he kept (tax collectors and sinners!) He often told stories at the table, and often brought table fellowship into his stories. He uses it to underline the warmth and breadth of God’s loving welcome (“go out into the highways and byways….”) , to criticise those who held too narrow a view of who should be accepted as a fellow diner, or to emphasise the need for humility (“take the lowest place”) .
Seafarers, like many migrant workers, are often left out on the fringes, forgotten and unappreciated by those they serve. If any are deserving of an honoured place around our metaphorical table, it is those men and women. Table fellowship in Jesus’ time was surrounded by hospitality rituals, like foot-washing. Many of our chaplains and volunteers are often warmly welcomed around the tables of seafarers when they visit ships. It is often in these contexts that the best conversations take place.
Seafarers understand the importance of sharing together at the table. I am proud that the ministry of The Mission to Seafarers is one of hospitality. It is hospitality which welcomes all, without judgement. We too have our hospitality rituals…welcoming centres, ship visiting, transport and the rest.
By the time this blog has come out, I will be in Australia sharing in table fellowship with our teams across Australia – and subsequently with our nine regional directors. I look forward to being there. MtS Australia has a very proud record of the best in hospitality – many seafarers have told me of the warm Australian welcome they have received. In doing so I believe the spirit of gospel table fellowship is very much alive.