The Hospitality of Christ and the Open Table

Minnesotans recently voted NO to adding a discriminatory amendment to their constitution defining marriage as solely between one man and one woman. One of the campaigners, 17-year-old Lennon Cihak, took a vote YES sign and altered it to support marriage equality and then posted it on Facebook (see below). Lennon was barred from confirmation by the priest at his church and his whole family was barred from taking communion.

Commenting on this incident, Rev. Brett Webb-Mitchell writes, “I write this blog entry both as a gay dad and as an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church…I’ve seen parishes turn away people, many times unconscious of their actions or words, having never experienced being on the margins in middle-class American life. Then there are moments when a priest, pastor, or minister in a church is openly and shockingly exclusive, barring a church member from…Holy Communion.”

What does the theology and practice of the open table look like? How do the elements express the hospitality of Christ? Mitchell continues:

When I celebrate Holy Communion as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament of the PCUSA, I make it clear for all within hearing distance that the table we are gathered around is no longer the property of a church, but is Christ’s table, who invites everyone, from north, south, east, and west. This is not my invitation initially: this is Jesus’ invitation. And this invitation is open to all who hear and receive the invitation, whether one is straight or LGBTQ; single, married, or in a significant same-sex relationship; children of all parents, and families of all kinds of configurations, from various racial and ethnic backgrounds, of all ages, and abilities.

It is at this meal that the mundane bread and simple cup of wine (or juice) becomes Holy to those who believe in the one who spoke these words as he broke bread and poured wine into the cup, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Do what? Break bread and feed it to those who hunger or thirst physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, relationally, and for those who want to be part of a community of faith greater than themselves.

Likewise, those who participate in this meal are to welcome others, just like Jesus, who welcomed all those who were considered “outsiders” or lived on the margins … including people who are LGBTQ and our families, including the family with a son who is gay. “Do this in remembrance of me.”

The photograph Lennon Cihak posted on Facebook.

Lennon Cihak attended The Assumption Church in Barnesville, MN when his family were barred from communion.

The Assumption Church’s Rev. Gary LaMoine told Lennon Cihak’s family that he would not be receiving his confirmation, a rite of passage for Catholic youth, even though he has been preparing for event, which was scheduled for later this year.

Not only did LaMoine prohibit Cihak from receiving the sacrament; he also banned the teen’s entire family from participating in communion at the church.

“You kind of know the Catholic beliefs, but I never thought they would deny somebody confirmation because you weren’t 100 percent. I guess that’s what shocks me,” Shana Cihak, the boy’s mother, told the newspaper.

Although Cihak is too young to vote, he made it clear that he supports same-sex marriage. The Facebook post that LaMoine is upset over shows the teen holding up a sign for Minnesota’s marriage equality question, which was put on the Nov. 6 ballot. The sign originally read: “Vote Yes” on the state’s marriage amendment, which would define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. But Cihak altered the sign to read, “Vote No! Equal Marriage Rights!”

After the results of Election Day were announced, those who supported marriage equality came out on top as the amendment was not struck down.

Once the photo was discovered, however, the priest talked with the boy’s mother and told her that Cihak would not be allowed to complete confirmation.

In March of last year, Barbara Johnson was denied communion by a Catholic priest at her mother’s funeral because she is a lesbian.

See Also: