Guest columnist Mark Rollenhagen is the pastor of Good Soil Lutheran Ministries in Lakewood and Rocky River and a former reporter and editor of The Plain Dealer.
My professional careers – first as a journalist and editor and now as a parish priest – have brought me into contact with a wide range of people, from governors to people on the streets, literally on the street without. place to live.
I thought I had a broad view and understanding of people from all walks of life. But Amber Donovan’s words made me think again.
“You might be the first adult in this young person’s life who hasn’t been paid to be there,” she said.
She was trying to sell me and my little congregation to set up an open table, a group of six adults who serve as a sort of personal board of directors for a young person who has spent a significant part of his life in the system. county foster care. and who does not have the social connections and guidance provided by functional families.
We have been sold. The love and grace we know in Christ compels us to walk with people who are too easily marginalized and forgotten in society. We started two tables and provided space in Lakewood for a third table which formed at the end of last year.
Table members volunteer to address specific issues such as transportation, education and healthcare. This technical support – and the responsibility to check in weekly to see how things are going and to identify new concerns or aspirations and approaches – is helpful.
But something much bigger and more powerful is happening to those around the table. They experience love and community and they cross a gap that they would never cross in the ordinary course of their daily lives. And that changes things.
The photographs of some Open Table groups, including mine, can be disturbing because you can see half a dozen white people gathered around a young black man. It sounds paternalistic, like these nice rich white people are going to help out this poor black kid and show him how to live properly.
But that’s not the goal of Open Table. It is not about giving and controlling. It is about relationships and offering care, worry and love that leads to understanding and opens up a new world of possibilities.
For the folks on the table at my Good Soil Lutheran Ministries, the foster care system is no longer a matter of abstract politics. It is a living problem personified, realized, in the young man who sits at our table every week.
The same goes for other issues like racism, poverty, Medicaid, slumlords, payday loans, and predatory car title loans.
Our eyes open and our lives change as we grow in confidence and understanding and become advocates for a young man and others facing similar challenges. It is a reason to hope.