*** DEBUG END ***

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

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
Church Times Bookshop £15.29

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events


Church Times/RSCM:

Festival of Faith and Music

26 - 28 April 2024

See the full programme on the festival website. 

Early bird tickets available


Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE


Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available


Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available


Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)