When In Doubt, Set the Table

Hagrid howled still more loudly. Harry and Hermione looked at Ron to help them.
“Er – shall I make a cup of tea?” said Ron.
Harry stared at him.
“It’s what my mum does whenever someone’s upset,” Ron muttered, shrugging.
At last, after many more assurances of help, with a steaming mug of tea in front of him, Hagrid blew his nose on a handkerchief the size of a tablecloth and said, “Yer right. I can’ afford to go ter pieces. Gotta pull myself together…”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 219-220

Within the Harry Potter universe, there are many moments when the table becomes the locus for calming, healing, and understanding. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Hagrid, the groundskeeper of Hogwarts, has just found out that his beloved pet is in danger of being put down after attacking a student. (There’s much more to the story – Malfoy………, but for simplicity’s sake…)

Hagrid is inconsolable, and turns to his closest friends to help process. Harry and Hermione themselves feel helpless in the situation, and turn to Ron, who offers to make tea.

It’s what my mum does whenever someone’s upset.

Why do we turn to food and drink for comfort? What is it about sharing food in community with one another that somehow grounds us again, in the midst of great upheaval and pain?

By now, I’m sure that many have heard the news that has reverberated within the walls of the United Methodist Church and spilled out into the greater public forum. Since 1972, the United Methodist Church has defined their stance on homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.” And since 1972, hundreds of thousands of people from across the globe have attempted to have the language removed. After years of being unable to reach an agreement, in 2016 the Council of Bishops within the UMC formed a special commission comprised of thirty two people to work through these issues, organize potential solutions, and model what it looks like to lovingly disagree with one another. In a special called conference this past February 2019, the United Methodist Church decided by a very narrow margin to not only maintain the language of excluding LGBTQ folks, but to tighten restrictions and increase punitive actions against clergy who are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” and those who perform same-sex marriages. The first offense carries a penalty of a one-year suspension without pay, while the second offense requires the surrendering of credentials.

I was “lucky” enough to witness this decision in person.

And what I saw on the floor was devastating. It felt like death. My soul was howling. And my heart was torn apart for all the folks who would be the most affected by this vote.

With silent tears running down my face, more than a few times over the course of the four-day conference, my colleagues on the delegation offered to get me coffee and tea, hot chocolate and muffins, and I will be forever grateful for their care. When all else fails, we offer nourishment to one another as a sign of love. As a sign of peace. As a sign of new things coming.

Hope is rising, but we are still grieving. We have very few answers about the future, and many are still processing what actually happened. So naturally, in the wake of the uprooting of the denomination, we are doing what we as Methodists are known for: holding potlucks, having conversations around the table, making tea and coffee.

It’s what my mum does whenever someone’s upset.

We turn to those things we know how to do best: muscle memory kicks in when we don’t have the capacity to do much else. In the face of death, of natural disasters, of devastating news, there is literally nothing we can do to solve the issue that stands before us.

But making tea? We can do that.

And the best part is that this practice is multipurpose. Not only does it offer comfort to those who need it most, but it also stands as a symbol of hospitality. The Love that pours forth from the table needs no introduction; it invites all to partake, regardless of orientation or position or status or rank.

While I have very few words of wisdom regarding the future of the United Methodist Church, I am certain that the people called Methodists will always be rooted in the Love and care of the table.

It’s what my mum does whenever someone’s upset.

So let’s take care of one another. Put a kettle on, invite friends over, and allow the steaming mug of tea to carry you when all else fails.

— Christy

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