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A Place at the Table: Faith, hope and hospitality by Miranda Harris and Jo Swinney

by
03 March 2023

Naomi Starkey reads a mother and daughter on Christian hospitality

FOR a book “birthed in the darkness” of loss, this is an emotionally rich and inspiring blend of reflection, story, and journal (Features, 21 October 2022). After the death of her mother, Miranda Harris, in a car accident, Jo Swinney found the makings of a long-promised manuscript among her possessions. That book was to be about community and belonging, but Swinney combined it with excerpts from her mother’s other writings, plus her own contributions (distinguished by a different typeface) to craft A Place at the Table.

At its heart is the assertion that practising hospitality is fundamental to Christian living. Expressed as community, it has also been a foundational principle of A Rocha, the international family of Christian conservation organisations of which Miranda Harris was co-founder. Jo’s skilful editing grounds the idea for the original book in her mother’s frank journaling about the costs — as well as the joys — of community. She also focuses on the preparation and sharing of food as close to the heart of belonging: by enabling welcome to the table.

Beginning with “Hunger” and ending with “The Forever Feast”, the book combines environmental concerns with issues of practical spirituality and emotional well-being. Each chapter concludes with an imaginative retelling of a familiar Bible episode, linked in some way to food. There are also well-crafted prayers, including one to use while cooking and a prayer of thanksgiving to mark the end of a meal.

The honesty of both authors means that the book avoids any sense of perfectionism (and ensuing guilt), which can spoil a reader’s appetite for this subject area. Hospitality can be as sumptuous as a nine-course celebration meal or as simple as a bowl of porridge with brown sugar rustled up for a hungry friend. It is helpful, too, for those involved in ministry to hear the stories of struggle, as well as thriving, in the growth of A Rocha: a reminder that faith can involve decisive commitment when the final outcome is far from certain.

A Place at the Table is, at the very least, a reminder of the somewhat lost art of saying grace before meals. It is also a tribute to the life of a pioneering leader in conservation and environmental awareness, whose work was brought to an end too soon.
 

The Revd Naomi Starkey is Ministry Area Leader of Bro Padrig, in north Anglesey.

 

A Place at the Table: Faith, hope and hospitality
Miranda Harris and Jo Swinney
Hodder & Stoughton £16.99
(978-1-529-39205-0)
Church Times Bookshop £15.29

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