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'Set the table and people will come'

Soul Food Advent Blog Series 2018: 'Room at the Table'

Guest blogger: Richard Cornfield

In Wayne’s World 2, in some kind of fantastic dream, Wayne was following some 'weird naked Indian guy' and in the middle of the desert met The Doors' dead lead singer Jim Morrison. And he asked Jim a remarkable vocational question: ‘What am I to do with the rest of my life?’ Jim looked at him and said, ‘Put on a concert in Aurora.’ Wayne said to him, ‘But how will I get the bands to come?’. Jim replied, ‘If you book them, they will come!’

A few years ago, I was sitting in a room where I had a Wayne-like vocational moment. We were thinking about social transformation and how we could engage with the homeless community in Edinburgh. In the middle of the discussion, just like Wayne, I asked, ‘Yeah, but how do we do it?’ And the reply was, ‘If you put out a table and a few chairs, the people will come!’

In other words, just like Wayne, I was challenged to just get on with it and do something. But Wayne was given a little extra help from Jim Morrison. Jim told Wayne to travel to London to meet, ‘…the greatest roadie who ever lived’ called Del Preston and ‘he will help you.’ My ‘greatest roadie whoever lived’ was Jude Armani, but he travelled from London to Edinburgh to meet me and told me some vital information. ‘The hardest time to be homeless and isolated is on Saturday afternoon. The time when families are together watching the football results and rubbish telly.’ As a result of this knowledge he had put on a banquet every Saturday afternoon in a church. The banquet was called ‘Saturday Night Fever.’ It attracted lots of homeless people who loved the great food and especially the safe and warm atmosphere. I thought that’s it, that’s what we must do.

A threefold calling: put out some tables and chairs, do it every Saturday afternoon in church and put on a banquet. Beautifully simple. Yet, as it turned out, quite complex to put into practice.

Fuelled by miracles and coincidences, just over a year after these initial conversations, Soul Food was born. We put out a few tables and chairs and amazingly the people came. 26 at first, then 36, then 48, and before we knew it over 100 guests and 40 volunteers each week were in a room with what was now lots of tables and chairs, all sharing a banquet together. Excellent food led to a connection to some seriously beautiful people who had stories for us to listen to. The mission of the church was in front of my eyes – nothing was hidden – poor mental health, addictions, brokenness, abuse, isolation, broken hearts and dreams. In my experience these are all areas of which Jesus is an expert.

Doing simple things changes the world. Meeting basic needs with kindness allows possibilities. Taking risks and opening the doors gives the space for transformation. Providing time for conversation allows room for healing and hope. And somehow in all of this Jesus becomes more real, more talked about and more responded to. And I am changed.

So, for me - now - it’s all about my new calling of 'putting out a table and a few chairs.' So much so, we have started a new mid-week Soul Food at St Margaret's Church and we're also trying to encourage more churches to get involved by putting on their own Soul Food event.

I write and tell this story as a blog post for Advent.

I would argue that a table and chairs, like those found in a Soul Food room, are the furniture we need for Advent. Because as we sit around the table we discover more of this Jesus. My wife Jenny often says that Jesus left one piece of furniture that was to be present when his people met as church - and it was the table.

Jesus did all his best work around the table. The table helps us to see the priorities of the kingdom. It helps us get ready for Him. The secrets of the kingdom are whispered. Our vocation is discovered. God becomes more dynamic. Jesus said, perhaps whilst sitting at a dinner table: 'I have come that they may have life.' That life is all revealed, and abundantly revealed, around the table. So, I challenge you to work out how you are going to put out a table and a few chairs. I guarantee that it will change your life and help you to follow Jesus in wonderful, dynamic and yet challenging ways.


Richard leads Soul Food Edinburgh with Jennifer Cornfield, and is Pioneer Priest at Mustard Seed Edinburgh.

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