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Faces on Faith: Seating arrangements

July 4, 2018
By REV. DR. JOHN H. DANNER , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

As you might imagine, I go to a fair number of wedding receptions. And sometimes the only other people I know who are in attendance are my wife, the bride and the groom. Believe it or not, I am actually a fairly shy person, so I always get a bit nervous before social occasions. And if I don't know anybody, I get even more apoplectic. I don't hide under tables - but I have been known to sidle up to a potted palm and pay an inordinate amount of attention to my Swedish meatballs and shrimp cocktail.

Needless to say, one of the most challenging moments of such an occasion is finding my seat. Which means first finding my place card. I always worry a bit about where I'll be seated. Occasionally it is at the same table as the bride's or groom's parents, and that is always a bit of a relief. I know we'll have something we can talk about, and besides, it makes me feel rather special. At other times I'm seated at the odds and ends table. You know what I mean? The table where they sit the newly widowed aunt, the cousin who never got married, and the groom's best friend's parents who nobody can stand because they talk too much. That's always a trial. But I understand. They aren't going to seat me with the bride's sorority sisters or the groom's co-workers. Who wants a preacher at your table when there's an open bar and a good deejay?

On very rare occasions, though, I get seated at the table right by the kitchen door. The one for the help. I don't mean the servers and cooks - they don't even get seated. I mean the members of the band, the photographer, and these days, the videographer. I try not to be a snob. But sometimes, I guess I am. And when I get seated at that kind of table, I feel downright insulted. Do they know I've been ordained for over thirty years? Do they realize I've had articles published in national publications? Do they know I have a PhD for goodness sake? And here they are putting me at the same table as the hired help. Here they are treating me like a servant!

Article Photos

Rev. Dr. John H. Danner

I must admit, when I react in such a manner, I'm not very proud of myself. But then I think about what Jesus might say if he were at the wedding. John, he might say, you can get all worked up about where you are sitting if you want to - that's fine, but you see that table down by the kitchen door? You see that scruffy looking drummer wolfing down his prime rib? You see the half-looped photographer who's gulping down another scotch and soda before its time for the cake cutting ceremony and he's back on duty? That's where I'm sitting. I'm sitting with the help. And then he'd throw a line out that is so unnerving, so unsettling, that you just can't forget it. A line that shows up a number of times in the gospels in various forms and disguises. You see, John, it's like this, "whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." (Mark 9:35b)

So here's an idea. The next time you're worried about whether or not you're the best, the most successful, the greatest - the next time you're worried about where you are seated, or where you fall in the pecking order, the next time you're tempted to switch place cards, don't even sit down at the table. Instead, pick up a towel, sling it over your arm, and begin to serve. Hopefully, you'll run into me doing the same thing!

The Rev. Dr. John H. Danner is the senior pastor at Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ.



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