A New Place at the Table
Harrisonville United Methodist Church is a great place to be – Rev. Kevin Shelton will be the first to tell you that. But he’ll also acknowledge that some people are reluctant to attend any church.
Downtown Harrisonville is also a great place to be. The historic Cass County Courthouse square is wrapped in a brick street surrounded by various cafés and shops, picturesque to a level that most towns hope to achieve someday. Shelton thought it would be a neat place to have a worship service. So he overcame his initial nervousness and approached a coffee shop owner and asked if they would be willing to rent their space to a church one night a week. They readily agreed and struck a deal.
“And the rent they are charging is extremely reasonable,” he said.
This isn’t the first time the Sheltons have ventured downtown to a non-traditional location for worship. When Kevin’s wife Tammy was working in college-age ministry at Community UMC in Columbia, she started a student-led service called The Branch at Deja-Vu comedy club. The Table in Harrisonville has some similarities and some differences. Like The Branch, The Table entirely consumes the space when the business isn’t usually open.
That means that although it’s in of coffee shop, there’s no one behind the bar. Shelton wanted coffee available to someone who walked into a coffee shop, so initially, he just made coffee in his French press. However, the logistics of that proved too much, so now he purchases coffee from the Brickhouse they have set up for him.
He describes the worship as a laid-back praise fest and the music as camp-firey.
Shelton doesn’t talk up his church or Methodism in his message, but a tuned ear would pick up on Wesleyan tones to the service.
“This is a missional place where everybody is welcome,” Shelton said. “We want it to be a force of transformation in the community, and we’re trying to be as foundational as we can be.”
At this phase, he would describe those gathered as a ecumenical partnership that includes many people who worship at several different denominations and some people who don’t have a church home.
In each worship, questions of faith are shared and discussed around the table. There’s also a time to visit the participation tables when people can write down prayers and engage in other devotional activities.
On February 1, Shelton addressed the broad question of why to study the Bible. He said it certainly has lots of good stuff, like the Golden Rule, but it also has disturbing parts, like allowing for slavery. One person in attendance who has an affection for horses was particularly disturbed by the verses in which God instructs the hamstringing of the enemy’s horses.
“What did the horses do?” she asked.
Shelton explained that the Bible is a collection of 66 books written over 1,000 years, with some books based on stories from a much older oral tradition.
Some people take every word of it to be the inerrant word of God, some people approach all of it with skepticism, and most lie somewhere between those positions.
Shelton suggested looking at the Bible through the lens of it being the story of God’s relationship with humanity. When he found his way back to church in his 30s after an absence and started reading the Bible through, he quickly found that the Old Testament wasn’t just the heroic stories he had learned in Sunday school as a child. But he saw Jesus in the Bible before he even got out of the book of Genesis.
When Esau was coming for Jacob, he had every right to seek justice, but instead of a sword, he presented open arms. There was Jesus.
“Jacob said to him, ‘To see your face is to see the face of God,’” Shelton said, explaining that that moment of forgiveness and redemption embodied the essence of Jesus Christ. “I trust the Bible. I trust the story.”
Shelton is pleased with how The Table is getting started and hopes to see it develop into a self-sustaining ministry. New connections have already been made, and people within the church have stepped up to make the ministry work.
“One good thing about The Table is that it has created new leadership opportunities for our people at church,” he said.
The table is partly funded through a New Places for New People grant from Congregational Excellence.