Christmas Reflection

Christmas Greetings!
We have spent these weeks of Advent connected through these weekly reflections. We hope they have brought you moments of calm reflection in this busy season. We are so thankful for you as a friend and supporter of Open Table. As we look towards the new year, we look forward to continuing the work of Jesus in a spirit of bold, visionary, inclusive love. Thank you for joining us in this work.
The Open Table Cooperative Board


During these weeks of Advent
we have journeyed together,
feeling the warmth of community,
as we reflect on light.
Together, connected around the world,
we light candles.

Flickering lights illuminating
the hope, peace, joy, and love in our world
illuminating the hope in our souls,
illuminating the way of peace,
illuminating the joy in our hearts,
illuminating abundant love.

A Love that is here
and a Love that is coming.
Love that angels sang about
and prophets proclaimed.

A Love that will not leave us alone.
God’s love embodied.

Embodied as Wisdom.
The transparent nothingness
that pervades all things
She is the breath of God,
A clear emanation of Divine Glory,
Who renews all things.

Embodied as Jesus.
Flesh and bone.
Human and real.
Living and dying.

Embodied in us.
You and me.
Here and now.

Stronger than anything,
Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love for All.

In this Christmas season, may you answer the call to embrace Wisdom.
Allowing her to slip into your Holy soul,
making you a friend of God and of prophets.

May you delight in life,
and may you know that you are God’s delight.

A light shines in the darkness
and the darkness will not overcome it.

Embody that light,
reflected and dancing for all to see.

Merry Christmas.

Written by Elizabeth Ullery Swenson, pastor of WildWood Gathering

Advent Reflection: Week 4

Advent Greetings!
In these days of Advent we invite you to pause in reflection and prayer with the Open Table Community. Each Sunday of Advent we will send a meditative reflection to your inbox. (You can sign up here.) Use them for your own Advent study, use them in your community of faith or share them around your dinner table. Though we are spread across the country, and around the world, may these weekly reflections connect us to each other and to God.
The Open Table Cooperative Board

At WildWood Gathering during these weeks of Advent we are are exploring Holy Wisdom, a figure of the feminine Divine. This Divine feminine of Holy Wisdom appears in sections of the book of Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon, along with the Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirah. These writings celebrate the attributes of Holy Wisdom, also known as Sophia or Chochmah, as an embodiment of the Holy. Wisdom was God’s first creation. Considered by some to be God’s first child. Wisdom is beyond time, she was with God in the beginning, co-creating the world into being. Rabbi Rami Shapiro writes in his book, The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature, “Wisdom is the Hebrew Mother, Chochmah, who becomes the Greek Son, Logos,” The story used to foretell the coming of Jesus, borrows, adapts, and in some sense hijacks the Hebrew feminine embodiment of Holy Wisdom.

We might presume that the author of John knew his audience would be familiar with Wisdom’s intimate relation to God the Creator and wanted to capture that symbolism in how he wrote about the Logos illustrating the relationship of Jesus to God.

From the Wisdom of Solomon;
“What is Wisdom?
She is intelligent, holy, unique, subtle, flowing, transparent, and pure;
She is distinct, invulnerable, good, keen, irresistible, and gracious;
She is humane, faithful, sure, calm, all-powerful, all-seeing, and available to all who are intelligent, pure, and altogether simple.
She is the breath of God, a clear emanation of Divine Glory, no impurity can stain Her.
She is God’s spotless mirror reflecting eternal light and the image of divine goodness.”
Wisdom is eternal light. She reflects and emanates eternal light.

From the Gospel of John, a familiar passage;

“In the Word was life,
and that life was humanities light,
a light that shines in the darkness
and the darkness did not overcome it.”
A light it coming.
A light it here.
Embodied in Holy Wisdom, who is in and through all things.
Foretold and embodied in the person of Jesus.
And embodied and exemplified in us too.

The more I study Wisdom the more I see and know the stories of Jesus in a deeper and more full way. There is a thread that carries through, illuminating along the way a deep and abiding Wisdom. Feminine. Divine. Wise. Saving. Empowering. Holy.

In these days of Advent, as we prepare and proclaim again the birth of Jesus the savior, we proclaim again the presence of Sophia, Holy Wisdom.

You can read the full sermons from our series on the WildWords Blog.

Written by Elizabeth Ullery Swenson

Advent Reflection: Week 3

Advent Greetings!
In these days of Advent we invite you to pause in reflection and prayer with the Open Table Community. Each Sunday of Advent we will send a meditative reflection to your inbox. (You can sign up here.) Use them for your own Advent study, use them in your community of faith or share them around your dinner table. Though we are spread across the country, and around the world, may these weekly reflections connect us to each other and to God.
The Open Table Cooperative Board


Waiting and Preparation; the time of Advent is both. But in this time of darkness, when it gets dark at 5pm and all we want to do is stay in bed, it can be hard to wait and even harder to prepare for the light that is coming. During Christmas time it can be so tempting to fill your schedule with cookie baking and Holiday parties so you don’t have to wait for Christmas alone, but what do we miss out on when we jump to make waiting for Christmas fun, and put aside preparing our hearts and minds for what is coming?

The birth of Jesus is often framed as the bringing of light to a dark world, but what we may miss is what the world must do to be ready for what the gift of Christ is truly meant to be. Taking time during Advent to prepare ourselves to commit to the message and meaning of Jesus’ life is necessary if we plan to follow in his footsteps. This is the time for foundation building and making sure we are prepared for what comes after the Christmas lights are turned off and the trees come down.

Questions for deeper reflection:

  • How do you need to prepare your own heart and mind, and build a foundation for a new year of walking with Christ?

  • In what ways is Christ calling you to walk with Him NOW, even during this busy season?

Written by Sarandon Smith 

Advent Reflection: Week 2

Advent Greetings!
As we enter these days of Advent we invite you to pause in reflection and prayer with the Open Table Community. These Sundays of Advent we will send a meditative reflection to your inbox. (you can sign up here). Use them for your own Advent study, use them in your community of faith or share them around your dinner table. Though we are spread across the country, and around the world, may these weekly reflections connect us to each other and to God.
The Open Table Cooperative Board

A Responsive Reading based on Isaiah 9:2

For private reflection or public reading

One: A call of invitation from the Sufi Poet Rumi:
Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.
Come, yet again, come, come.
“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light;

Many: Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them.”

One: This verse from Isaiah chapter 9 reminds us that we are not stuck in our darknesses

Many: And the light shines on the darkness

One: We are the people who walk sometimes, even a little, in the dark

Many: And we need – And we will – to see a great light.

One: That light is coming and that promise is coming. In Advent, we pause to reflect on that which has come and is yet to come.

Many: Emmanuel, God with us, become our way, our truth, our light

One: Sisters, brothers, siblings, receive the promise that is and is and yet to be. There is a light.

Many: Can it shine in our darkness?

One: And the light shines on in the darkness. Your darkness, and as we spread the light, all the darkness.

Many: May it be so.

One: May it be so with all who need. And as our lights are renewed,
may we be the light-bearers to the world.
Amen and Amen.

Written by Matt Rittle


Advent Reflection: Week 1

Advent Greetings!
As we enter these days of Advent we invite you to pause in reflection and prayer with the Open Table Community. The four Sundays of Advent we will send a meditative reflection to your inbox (you can sign up here). Use them for your own Advent study, use them in your community of faith or share them around your dinner table. Though we are spread across the country, and around the world, may these weekly reflections connect us to each other and to God.
The Open Table Cooperative Board

Cooperative Reading of Genesis & John Chapter One

For private reflection or public reading with differing voices.

Genesis:      Verse one. In the beginning…

John:           In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God.

Genesis:      God created the heavens and the earth.
Verse two. Now the earth was without shape and empty,
and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep,
but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water.

John:           The Word was with God in the beginning.

Genesis:      Verse three. God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light!

John:           All things were created by him,
and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.

Genesis:    Verse four, God saw that the light was good,
so God separated the light from the darkness

John:        In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind.
Verse five, And the light shines on in the darkness

And the light shines on in the darkness. And the light shines on in the darkness…at least we hope it does. Some days, the darkness seems so pervasive. From the national to the international to the personal, the darkness flies in our faces faster than we can replenish the oil in the lamps of our souls, some days. And even when we feel the warmth of the light, our hearts remain broken for those we know see the light all too dimly. In Advent, we celebrate, not just the light, but we stand in temporarily in the darkness. In Advent, for a moment, we accept and reflect on the dark. For it is only in the darkness that we may experience fully the Genesis text which says, “God said, ‘let there be light.’ And there was light!” It is only from a place of darkness that promise in the Gospel of John can transform us: “in him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. And the light shines on in the darkness.”

As we experience the darkness this Advent or in our lives, let us become the people of advent who see the light anew. Oh Christ, oh light of all living, be born again in us. And may the light shine on in all our darkness. Amen.

Written by Matt Rittle


Open Table in Cincinnati!

In the fall of 2011, at the urging of young adults, a dozen or so people gathered in Northern Indiana to reflect, discuss and discern a way forward following the events of the 2011 Annual Conference in Grand Rapids. The Spirit filled the room and a vision, now called Open Table Cooperative, began to take shape. Six years later, we are still discerning, discussing, and reflecting a way forward as we seek to continue the work of Jesus with a spirit of bold, visionary and inclusive love. At times, it feels that a lot has changed since that difficult conference, but in many ways, little seems to have changed. While we knew even then that an organization wasn’t going to be the key to solving our divisions, we hoped that it might provide an avenue for leadership, visioning, and creating change. Open Table has called forth the gifts young leaders and helped to foster their ministry within the progressive community and beyond. Open Table, BMC, and Womaen’s Caucus, collectively work to cast a vision for this particular manifestation of the beloved community and invite all of us to embody who we know we can be as a denomination. We have been unwavering in our vision and dream for our denomination as we live into the vibrancy and vitality that is present. As the Church of the Brethren moves forward with the compelling vision process, we reaffirm that Progressive Brethren already live a compelling vision!

As we look towards 2018 Annual Conference, we are eager to continue to live that vibrant vision together, beginning with the Open Table Mix & Mingle on Wednesday, July 4th at 5 pm. The Mix and Mingle, attended by over 300 people last year, has become a centering event of Annual Conference, setting the tone as we move into worship and business. Together, we snack on light appetizers, sip iced tea or lemonade, and raise our glasses, and say a prayer! We’ve been able to offer this no-ticket-required gathering to conference goers for “free,” thanks to the generous support of our donors. Will you sponsor this vibrant event so that we can continue to welcome everyone to the Open Table? Your name will appear on a card on a table, saying

“<Your Name> Supports an Open Table for All.”

It is a great way to be present at Annual Conference, even if you can’t make the trip this year. We need 15 sponsors at $300 each to cover the expense of the Mix & Mingle. You can make your tax-deductible donation online through PayPal ( or by mailing a check, (PO Box 783, Olympia, WA 98507).

In addition to the Mix & Mingle this year we will be offering two insight sessions, the first in collaboration with On Earth Peace on Friday, July 6, at 9 pm: Listening, Witnessing: for Living Parables of Justice & Peace, Matthew 22:1-10. The second is with the support of the Pacific Northwest District, on Saturday at 12:30, where we will share the results and insight from a visioning survey that Open Table conducted last summer. Both of these sessions promise engaging conversations and we invite you to join. Lastly, we will once again be facilitating on-the-ground communications during conference, particularly during business sessions. This allows us to communicate quickly and broadly within our Progressive Brethren network. Instructions to sign up to receive these messages will be available at Annual Conference. If you are not able to attend this year, we encourage you to follow along on Twitter (@OpenTableCoop).

Our Annual Conference presence would not be successful without our board volunteers. They make the commitment to attend Annual Conference and support the work of Open Table in person. Will you consider supporting our volunteers by helping Open Table cover their travel expenses? We need 10 sponsors at $200 each to cover travel and lodging. ( None of the work of Open Table would be successful without you, our donors and supporters. Together, we are living into the vision of the beloved kin-dom, with a spirit of bold, visionary, and inclusive love.

With gratitude, blessings, and hope,
The Open Table Cooperative Board

Compelled to Respond

As shared by the Church of the Brethren Newsline on October 25, 2017, during the fall Mission and Ministry Board (MMB) meeting, conservative leaders from the Church of the Brethren likened Brethren Mennonite Council (BMC) to a white supremacist group.

The violence of white supremacy is antithetical to the principles of our peace church, and we’re unable to fully express our grief and anger over the conflation of the advocacy and community building work of BMC with white supremacy. Contrary to this comparison, there is no moral equivalence between a group which advocates for minority groups and for the marginalized and a group bent on furthering the dominance of a racial majority. The reference to white supremacy – and the very nature of secretive, invite only gatherings – fails the litmus test of basic decency and, as the BMC response says, ”perpetrates sentiments of hate, anxiety, and exclusion.”

We need to come together across ideological differences and denounce white supremacist violence, actions and threats including kidnapping, slavery, terrorism, even genocide, and which are not limited to history books. The supporters of white supremacy  continue to gather publicly, even since Charlottesville. Just days after the MMB meeting in question, on October 28, a “white lives matter” rally took to the streets of Shelbyville, Tennessee, and chanted “blood and soil,” a reference to a key domestic policy for the Nazi Party (‘blut and boden’), a chant also used in the infamous rally where Heather Heyer was murdered.  

We must not minimize the struggle of people deeply affected by white supremacy. It is not enough to personally avoid racism, we must be willing to confront our own privilege and engage actively in anti-racism. We must join collectively in the shared work of increasing the acceptance, increasing the love, and increasing the dream Martin Luther King Jr preached about those decades ago.

Compelled by our faith in the one who visited Samaria and spoke to a women by the well, who touched the lepers, who ministered to the gentiles, who healed on the sabbath, and who so frequently stood with the disenfranchised and marginalized of his time, we voice our deep appreciation  for the faithfulness of BMC, our LGBTQ+ sisters, brothers, and siblings, and for all who work with or live within marginalized communities.

Our most recent Annual Conference affirmed the desires of the Leadership Team and the Council of District Executives to turn our attention forward, and work towards a compelling vision for our shared life and work together. We must confess, then, our inexpressible pain that we continue to see an ongoing obsession with assailing the character of a ‘significant minority’ of the Church.

Even so, let us be clear. Open Table’s vision for the future of the Church of the Brethren includes every sister, brother, and sibling willing to participate in the communion of faith in Christ. Supporters of BMC, supporters of Brethren Revival Fellowship, and every shade between, we would wash the feet of any person sitting next to us at the table.

May our Lord’s grace and peace abound for all, increase to abundance, increase to the day it is fully realized for all.


Pastor Matt Rittle,
on behalf of the Open Table Cooperative board

Giving Tuesday

2016-gt-logo-wdate1I write during a difficult, but important, time for our nation and our church.

Nationally, we have just come through a divisive, angry campaign season which culminated in the vindication of fear-mongering and self-interest over reason and the common good. We are in the midst of a grief process, and grief does not have a fixed expiration date. The years ahead may be far tougher than they’ve been. What may be hardest is the uncertainty of knowing what  we might face. We do know that the concerns among immigrants, religious minorities, racial minorities, queer people, the poor, and everyone who cares about creation, are all valid. It’s a challenging time to be a progressive in the United States.

At the same time, the message of peace that is the signature contribution of the Church of the Brethren to the world is needed all the more. Our church currently faces a transition of leadership (though far less dramatic, of course, than the national one), with three top leadership positions hiring new staff within one year. Who we will be as this part of the Body of Christ is still taking shape, and our voices are needed at the table.

Where can we find hope to keep moving forward?

I have found some comfort in turning to the groups that have been doing the hard work of organizing for progress and change over the long haul. In this season of grief and confusion, when our spirits may be low and our need to take care of ourselves all the greater, I am comforted to know that I don’t have to bear the burden of change alone. When I am exhausted, I know there are others with energy to keep moving forward.

Open Table Cooperative is one of those organizations that will keep up the work of progress through the challenging times. Here’s what we have done, and will continue to do, to contribute movement toward the peace and justice our Christ calls us to:

  • Strategize with other groups to bring ALL people to the table in our church nationwide

  • Create and share resources for progressive theology and practice in our congregations

  • Provide safe space and fellowship opportunities at CoB Annual Conferences

  • Represent a voice for diversity and inclusion at other national and regional gatherings

  • Offer a dynamic social media and online presence to energize and equip progressive voices

If this work is important to you, we invite you to make a donation to support our efforts. We welcome donations through the mail or online at our website,

One new project we are especially excited to share with you is a year-long online devotional resource, launching in the new liturgical year (starting November 27). The project is called Parables for a Year. If you are receive our emails, you are already signed up to receive a parable a week, along with a probing question or two, written by our board member Dylan Dell-Haro. We will also be posting these devotionals on Facebook. Dive into Jesus’ stories in a new way with us this year. If you would like to sign up to receive our emails and the weekly devotional click here.

It is still a season of thankfulness, and so we also want to let you know that part of where we find strength for this work is from you. So thank you for your support, prayers, and solidarity in the struggle. We need each other, now as much as ever before. Thank you for being part of the movement to extend Jesus’ table of love for all.
The Open Table Cooperative Board:

Dylan Dell-Haro,
Beatrice, Neb.

Kimberly Koczan-Flory
North Manchester, Ind.

Sarandon Smith
Palmyra, Penn.

Steven Crain
Lafayette, Ind.

Audrey Zunkel-DeCoursey
Portland, Ore.

Elizabeth Ullery Swenson
Olympia, Wash.
Open Table Cooperative Coordinator

A Response to the Standing Committee Statement Regarding Same Sex Weddings

A response from Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests, the Supportive Communities Network Steering Committee, Open Table Cooperative, Womaen’s Caucus, and the Executive Committee of On Earth Peace to the Standing Committee Statement regarding Same Sex Weddings:

“To be afraid is to behave as if the truth were not true.” – Bayard Rustin

On Monday, a narrow majority of the Standing Committee of the Church of the Brethren chose to act from a place of fear – fear of the unknown future, fear that the Holy Spirit may move counter to the ways it has in the past, a fear of losing their church. Fear brings a desire for clarity, for order, for casting aside anything and anyone deemed a threat to its existence. Fear is a powerful force, one that too often seeks to comfort the will of the majority by ignoring the minority and at the expense of the marginalized. Yet a lesson we learn from the biblical narrative and human history about fear is instructive: Fear always creates division.

The fear behind this statement ignores these realities: It proclaims that the amendment to the 1983 paper on human sexuality is our most important Annual Conference position paper, above the Brethren value of personal conscience found in the 1996 Paper on Congregational Ethics, the 2004 paper on Congregations that disagree with Annual Conference decisions, and the 2008 paper on Forbearance, among others. Indeed, an unwavering respect for personal conscience is one of the core convictions of the Brethren since our very beginning; it calls for a dangerous and unprecedented polity decision that will further divide the denomination; and it places numerous COB Districts and District Executives in an impossible position that may cause serious damage to their District’s viability.

But perhaps the most compelling reality is this one – it won’t be effective, as there are pastors and congregations who will continue to count the cost of discipleship by participating in or officiating marriage equality ceremonies, as well as districts that may refuse to enforce the policy, whether out of principle, a desire for unity, or mere self-survival. We have great compassion for those who are fearful. We are not called to be fearful. We are called to follow the One whose message is ‘fear not.’ We choose to stand for the Gospel values of inclusion, justice, and love. We also choose to name this truth that others in the church may fear – we have to be true to our best understanding of God’s will as we follow our ministry convictions and proclaim a call to action for justice and inclusion of LGBTQ persons and all peoples, no matter what consequences are proposed by Standing Committee or adopted by Annual Conference. Like our Brethren ancestors who were persecuted for following their conscience, we count this as the cost of faithful discipleship. In naming this truth, we stand firmly in the footsteps of Jesus, who suffered for his convictions, even to the point of death on the cross.

More Than Prayers

Together we mourn the horrific shooting at Pulse Latin night, the Orlando gay dance club. We offer support and love to our LGBTQ+ siblings in Christ in Orlando, around the country, and in the Church of the Brethren. But our tears, prayers, and love are not enough. Each act of senseless gun violence is too close for comfort. Each life lost is one to many. We live in a country that does not value each human life equally. We live in a country where the freedoms of a few cost the lives of many.

This is not the Kin-dom of God. This is not the life Jesus calls us to live. In the coming days and weeks I invite you to offer prayers, certainly, but offer actions too. Sign petitions. Attend vigils. Hug and love on the LGBTQ+ community, especially LGBTQ+ people of color.

As we head to Annual Conference in a couple weeks, carry these events with you. We have important work to do together as we discern what kind of church we want to be. We cannot condemn this horrific event on one hand, and continue to stifle the ministry and lives of our LGBTQ+ community on the other. To remain silent is to be a passive accomplice. How will we work towards the beloved Kin-dom of God? How will we be the hands and feet of Christ in this world today? How will we live into our call to be a church of peace and discipleship?

Blessings & Love,

Elizabeth Ullery Swenson
Olympia, Wash.
Open Table Cooperative Staff