Lynn Pate has spent her life surrounded by tables. As her husband found himself called to the Eucharistic table some 50 years ago, she was called into a life of ministry at tables of different kinds: board tables, kitchen tables, craft tables, and coffee tables. As she tells the story of her journey into discipleship, I can almost hear the crowds that have surrounded those tables over the years. Most of them are noisier than the people surrounding the table where her husband served: there are orphaned children, people living with HIV/AIDS, draft dodgers and women in abusive relationships. There are Marxists around her college debating table, moms around the founding board table of the Fort Garry Resource Centre, elderly shut-ins around her meals-on-wheels table, and small children around her Messy Church lunch table.
When I ask Lynn how her life came to be so rooted in table hospitality, she seems a little confused. “It’s sort of become a way of life,” she explains. “I’ve committed to that community and I’m going to love them no matter what. Everyone should be welcome.” For Lynn, discipleship is not about a list of do’s and don’ts. The places God calls us to as disciples, she believes, are unique to an individual’s personality and surroundings. Discipleship takes our entire lives, she tells me. It’s about “trying to figure out what it means to love God and love neighbour [in whatever situation we find ourselves].”
I suggest that perhaps learning to do this outside the walls of the Church is more difficult than it is for those called to ministry inside the institution, but Lynn dislikes my distinction. She explains that, as Christians, we need one another to “know my own skills and my limitations through prayer and discussion with other Christians.” Discipleship is not a one person journey. In a very real sense, Lynn finds that she is nourished by the table inside the Church in order to pursue discipleship outside of it. Likewise, the tables she has served outside the walls of the parish have become an enrichment to the parish community.
And just as discipleship is a give and take between the Church and the community, Lynn explains that we cannot learn to give until we have first learned to receive. “There’s a very dull line between giver and receiver sometimes,” she tells me. Learning to be a disciple is about learning to be like Jesus, and this means being cared for as well as caring for others.
When I point out how many lives Lynn must have blessed in her journey of discipleship, she is quick to point out how her own life and that of her family has been enriched in return. “In the Church we’ve met people we wouldn’t have met anywhere else,” she points out. “What we have in common is our faith.” Lynn seems to understand her journey of discipleship, not in terms of sacrifice, but in terms of gift. The people she has encountered and the things she’s been part of along the way made any amount of sacrifice on her part worth the trip.
Now in her seventies and living with increasing health concerns, Lynn finds herself forced to scale back some of her usual approach. “Loving God and loving others” looks a bit less active in her life these days, as she takes on smaller, quieter projects than she once did. But even here, the hospitality way of life is rooted in her interactions with others.
It is this quieter kind of discipleship which is the bedrock of our communities. The elders among us with stories of hope and sacrifice, persistent love and encouragement for the young, make it possible to see where God is moving in the Church and in the world. They teach us what it means to love God and love neighbour in whatever context we find ourselves. But, above all, people like Lynn exemplify the importance of uniting the Eucharistic bread with the bread of the hungry in our journey after Jesus.