By Open Table Christian Church
For far too many, “church” is a dirty word, and for some, “Christian” may be even worse. Many members of Open Table Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have been burned in the past by churches and Christians, too, but they believe faith is bigger than narrow-minded religion. According to one member, “To reflect our vision of an exuberantly loving God, we created a place that opens its arms to EVERYONE regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, economic status, age, nationality, gender identity, or marital status. Because we don’t claim to have all the answers or the exclusive, final interpretation of scripture, we welcome independent thought, deep questioning, and people honestly searching for faith in their lives.”
As a gay man, Pastor George Cunningham has long felt the need for a church that affirms the LGBT+ community in Murfreesboro. He was ordained as a minister long before he ever served a church because most churches would not hire a gay pastor. That prejudice drives many people away from the Church—the opposite of what we strive to accomplish. “As Disciples of Christ, we look to Jesus as our best example of how to live,” George notes. “In the gospels, Jesus reached out to those who were outcasts in his community – lepers, tax collectors, beggars, prostitutes, and non-believers. Jesus taught, and we believe, that the most important thing is to love God with all our might and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That is our primary focus at Open Table.”
Mandy Ray-Jones, who has been attending regularly with her kids, says she first sought out Open Table not as a Christian, but as a way of healing her past experiences in unwelcoming churches. “I was starting to feel negative things about Christians and hearing my kids say negative things about Christians,” she says. She wanted to find a positive experience of church for her kids and for herself. Mandy, who also volunteers with SOAR (a grassroots initiative committed to providing education and support for the LGBT+ community in Rutherford County), identifies as pandemisexual. For her, hearing the pastor of a church talk openly about his own sexual orientation during the worship service was refreshing. “It was validating to hear George refer to himself as a gay man,” she says. “Open Table is not just tolerant, not just accepting. It is affirming.”
The intention to be radically welcoming was a natural extension of their desire to be a church deeply concerned with social justice. “God cares for the marginalized in society, those who feel excluded. We want to work to heal the hurting, to provide a place for the outcast, to feed the hungry, to fight for the defenseless.” The church has purchased sleeping bags for homeless citizens in the community, sponsored a booth at the first ever Boro Pride Festival, and collected necessities for newly arrived refugees from Syria. Currently, members are raising money to provide clean water access to people around the world who desperately need it.
If you’ve attended any type of church service in the past, you might get a feeling of familiarity when you visit Open Table Christian Church. “But we aren’t church like you might have known it. You can sit and listen, but we hope you will want to get involved because God always has something going on here.”
Open Table aims to be a place where ALL belong, where you can find space to be truly yourself. They don’t expect you to fit someone else’s expectations of who you should be.
Be you. Because that’s who the world needs.
If you would like to “Come Out” and see what Open Table is all about, you can find them at: 1130 Haley Rd, Murfreesboro, TN 37129 with service beginning at 6pm on Sundays.