On Martin Luther King Day this past January, First Mennonite of Indianapolis hosted Dine and Dialogue, a free event intended to provide a community engagement experience and to further the understanding and manifestation of the ‘Beloved Community’ espoused by King. As pastoral intern, I was ecstatic when the Pastor-Elder team embraced and supported the concept I shared in early August 2012. This type of engagement is significant to me. I have been hosting it in some form or another all of my adult life.
The vision for this event developed from a painful experience in high school when I shared an essay in class. The topic was to select two people I would most like to have a dinner conversation with and why. I chose Martin Luther King and John Howard Griffin. I believed the sacrifices they made to understand racial tension, and then go about eradicating it, could empower me to do the same in my generation. My peers did not understand the concept and I was loudly heckled and jeered. Disappointed but determined, I continued to believe in the power and possibilities of that essay theme—coming around the table and talking is powerful, purposeful, and full of possibilities.
On MLK day, over 50 people responded to the invitation to dine and dialogue on specific topics related to reconciliation, social justice, peace, and intentional racial and ethnic diversity. Round tables were used to allow participants to easily see, hear, and reach out to one another. Each table had a designated topic with a special guest facilitator along with a table host who was a member of First Mennonite. Table topics ranged from public education to intimate partner violence, from ministering to the margins to eradicating disparities in health care, from fellowship in a racialized society to poverty and unmasking the pain and people behind the numbers, and more.
The participants were randomly assigned a table, because that is how life seems to happen—at the most random time we find ourselves in the middle of a social situation. Participants engaged in a shared meal while discussing these meaningful topics. The facilitators presented a brief overview of their perspective and then open discussion followed. The table hosts were there to keep the flow from becoming too intense or from languishing. After about 50 minutes, the participants were assigned to a new table.
At first there was trepidation that the topics were dangerous. Afterwards the consensus was that the danger lies in not having the discussions. The conversation flowed and connections were made; the atmosphere was genuinely alive with interest, hope, and possibilities.
There was no charge to share a meal and all facilitators volunteered their time. It was a unique opportunity to spend time with community members sharing experiences and learning how we can become living expressions of peace, justice, and equality for one another.