For many of you, it’s probably been years, more likely decades, since you last stepped foot in a high school cafeteria. I graduated from high school in 2002, but have since visited many Northern Virginia high schools for lunch meetings with youth from Christ Church. I’ve come to learn that every school, whether big, small, public, private, urban, or rural-- it doesn’t matter--the cafeteria experience is almost always the same. Sure they might look different, but if you close your eyes, I bet you can picture your high school cafeteria and retrieve that emotional experience like it was yesterday.

I was a brown bagger, thanks to my dad’s awesome sandwich making skills. After 4th period, I would leave my backpack by my locker and walk the entire length of the crowded sophomore hallway to those double doors. Yeah, you know the doors I’m talking about. They’re the ones where at some point, while trying to maneuver the door handle and squeeze past the rush of departing upperclassmen, you dropped your lunch on the floor. In an instant, that delicious made-with-love sandwich was squashed along with your pride.   

It turns out the grass isn’t greener on the lunch buyer side. I was always a tad jealous of lunch buyers- yes, it’s true-- because their lunch came with dessert!  But just think of those awkward cafeteria trays: those small pink Styrofoam ones could only hold a plate, leaving you to juggle your drink, Italian ice cup, and the study guide for your Math quiz in the other hand. Or maybe your school had the reusable plastic ones that were bigger, but were equally prone to spilling because they were always wet from the dishwasher.

Whew! Now you have your food, more or less, but you still have to find a seat. For a lucky few, this was easy. For the rest of us, this was purgatory. Do you remember standing in front of that big open cafeteria space, looking for a table? Terrifying, right? Do you ask permission to join a table that’s already mostly full? Or do you take a seat alone at an empty table in hopes that some of your friends arrive soon and sit with you? With so many social norms to navigate and insecurities to overcome, it’s tempting to march out those double doors and eat alone in an empty classroom just to avoid the entire scene. Ugh! You remember that feeling, don’t you?

Where do I belong?

The practice of belonging before believing in the Episcopal Church is one of many reasons why I’m proud to be Episcopalian. The banner phrase “All Are Welcome” sums it up perfectly.  Brown baggers, lunch buyers, upperclassmen, freshman, yes even visiting youth ministers…there is a seat for each of us at God’s table.  

I love that we baptize infants. From the beginning of that child’s life, the church welcomes that child as a full member of the Body of Christ. That baby belongs. I love that young children can receive communion long before they understand the restorative power of the Eucharist. Chances are that four-year-old boy thinks communion is a “church parade” where he gets snack from a grown up wearing a costume. And that’s okay! Why? Because he’s learning that he belongs at God’s table.  I love that confirmation is a choice. Youth take time to explore their faith more deeply and examine the ways God is working in their lives. Some may choose to be confirmed as a public declaration of their faith and the promises made on their behalf at baptism. Some may choose not to be confirmed. And that’s okay! Why? Because the Episcopal Church knows, despite all our human imperfections, doubts, and fears, that we all belong at God’s table. It’s up to each of us to choose where we want to take a seat.

My metaphor isn’t perfect, and neither is the Episcopal Church. There is more work to be done to make sure everyone is valued as full and equal members of the Body of Christ. I wonder if you know that you belong. What have you done to help someone else discover they belong?  Just imagine how different high school lunch would have been if you entered those double doors and someone shouted, “Hey! I saved you a seat.”