Icon: Kelly Latimore Icons
Christ in the Wilderness
“As I have read the Gospels over the years, the belief has grown in me that Christ did not come to found an organized religion but came instead to found an unorganized one. He seems to have come to carry religion out of the temples into the fields and sheep and pastures, onto the roadsides and the banks of the rivers, into the houses of sinners and publicans, into the town and wilderness, toward the membership of all that is here. Well, you can read and see what you think.”
~ Wendell Berry, 'Jayber Crow'
Dear Beloved of The Table,
As Pastor of this amazing community and together with The Table's Board, we would like to announce three consecutive chapters in our history unlike any other prior to now we're calling Sunset, Slumber, Sunrise. We're turning to the Christ in the Wilderness to lead and guide us into the unknown.
The reasons for these chapters are manifold and have many varying components that have led to this crossroads, this decision point and this next chapter on communal pilgrimage.
Gather around, Beloved, let me tell you a story:
There once was a community who dared to ask if Christian community could be radically inclusive. They experimented by hosting a common table for doubters and disciples to gather and to embody shared common practices based on the hunch that we are loved, we belong, and we can be nourished - both physically and spiritually. They practiced listening, hospitality, compassion & action. Eventually the common practices became muscle memory, ingrained into the DNA and essence of the community.
For 9 years this community, called The Table, experimented around this question and successfully curated a safe place for the spiritually hungry to be well loved, and became a launching place for the spiritually nourished to take that love into their neighborhood. Casper, Wyoming was the place where this community took root and flourished and everyone who participated at The Table was transformed because of compassion, vulnerability, and bravery. They facilitated the spiritually curious in asking powerful, life-giving questions and never holding belonging hostage for belief. Doubt was seen as holy ground; discipleship as transformational faithful action. The story of Jesus was the taproot of The Table's organization and practices. Jesus was the exemplar and primary wisdom teacher, rooted in a radically accepting Judeo-Christian soil. The community drank deeply of the wells of the Jesus-way narrative, the understanding that God is love in all ways; at all times. And The Table practiced radically inclusive welcome of the many wisdom traditions that grew from the God-is-Love taproot, learning from and being blessed by Judaism, Buddhism, the Bahá'í Faith, the Yogic tradition, Hinduism, Islam, and many others.
The Table became a studio of love where there was always room for one more, where we could expect it to be messy at times, and where all who gathered could learn to make compassion and vulnerability muscle memory in their daily lives. The organizing pastor, Libby Tedder Hugus, led the work of vision casting and spiritual formation. Many curious and and willing volunteers joined the effort. Food was shared, needs were met, insights were gained, doubters and disciples were welcomed and formed on the way to God's reconciling mission in our neighborhoods. We fostered a Neighborhood of Love where wisdom teachers like the Rev. Fred Rogers “Mister Rogers,” and the incomparable vulnerability guru, Brené Brown, became our lighthouses for how we wanted to practice care for self, neighbor and earth. Wisdom teachers like Richard Rohr, Rachel Held Evans, Valarie Kaur, Nadia Bolz Webber, Brian McLarnen, Thomas Jay Oord, John Philip Newell, Cynthia Bourgeault and many other luminaries guided our footsteps in the kind of Christianity that refused to play the “in and out game”. We listened deeply, sharing our reality with the invitation, “I have spoken” and the community bore witness to our reality with the response, “We hear you.” We prayed by meditating and taking action on behalf of peace and justice in our neighborhood.
As the participants around The Table lived together, building a growing organization, questions began to arise about how to sustain this community both financially and energetically. They got creative, working to invite community sponsorships, host fundraisers, and seeking out possible streams of income outside of grant funding. They sought grant funding diligently and were awarded some, and rejected by other funders. The Presbytery of Wyoming lent care and insight to this New Worshiping Community, learning and growing from the wisdom shared between the inherited church and the fresh movement of imaginative church. The Presbyterian Church USA oversaw this creative work through the network of 1001 New Worshiping Communities, resourcing The Table and its Pastor through coaching, training, spiritual formation, sabbatical grants and many other resources. The Table welcomed two grant-funded residents through the support of their over-seeing network, 1001 New Worshiping Communities, to work on staff alongside their Pastor and Board. One of these residents, Jessika Waldron, helped to bring life to the vision of the Red Clay Abbey - a fresh new worshiping community fostering rest for the weary and modern day sanctuary in exhaustive times. The other of these residents brought gifts of hospitality, organization, social media design and implementation. Meg Cartisano grounded and stabilized this creative work. The Table and the Red Clay Abbey began to dream about shared ministry and a way forward that allowed this “sisterhood” of ministries to impact our community through wider circles of compassion and restoration.
Beautiful programming arose out of the creativity and team effort of many capable leaders: Compassion School; Kids Korner, Yoga on the Labyrinth; Solabration; the Casper Mural Project; Three Spaces, Yoga Soul, Anti Racism Cohort, Messy Table, Neighborhood of Love, the Red Clay Abbey. The community was sought out to help facilitate generative and healing conversations in the wider community that engendered social justice and peace on behalf of Casper PRIDE, the Immigration Alliance of Casper, Ignite Talks, Legacies of Justice & Injustice in Wyoming, Natrona County School District, and indigenous traditions across the region. Thousands of people were impacted by The Table's presence and commitment to courage, compassion and connection.
Community-owned modeling and practices influenced how The Table was organized and how it discerned its future including influences like: Nonviolent Communication, Community Organizing, World Cafe and Peter Block's Six Conversations. Community partners sprung up to work along side The Table in accomplishing this work of baking the nourishing bread of peace into the nooks and crannies of the neighborhoods: Casper Community Greenhouse Project, Fresh Foods Wyoming, Beyond Borders Yoga, Bart Rea Learning Circle, Platte River Trails Trust, Riverton Peace Mission, The Lyric, the Natrona County Library, Wyoming Humanities Project, Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterian, the Presbytery of Wyoming, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Casper, and the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming.
Rivers, Boulders, Eddys
If the history of The Table is like a river, then the leadership encountered boulders that blocked financial and energetic flow and the capacity to sustain the future of the organization. The leadership attempted to think imaginatively about how to sustain the future of the organization. In an effort to think outside the box, the pastor, abbess of the red clay abbey, staff and board dreamed about restructuring the organization and hiring new staff. In the flowing river of the impact of this one of a kind community, the leadership got trapped in a disorienting eddy trying to make an organizational restructure work to fit the financial needs of the community. The leadership team has operated in the whirlpool of that eddy for the past two years, while simultaneously navigating many other undercurrents, some of our making and some entirely not of our choosing.
Some of these undercurrents included:
- Shifting critical mass in the numbers of folks able to attend and participate in community in person
- six pillars of the community moved out of state in 2022 alone.
- Board leadership shifting as members discerned their need to serve or lead elsewhere.
- A twelve month contract with a grant research and writing organization to assist with searching and applying for grants, out of 13 applied for, only 1 has been granted.
- Conflict and misunderstanding among the leadership of the Presbytery of Wyoming about how to adequately support the work of New Worshiping Communities like The Table and Red Clay Abbey meant that energy was redirected to the undercurrent of conflict management.
- A year and a half long effort to utilize a property owned by the Presbytery of Wyoming for purposes of the Red Clay Abbey, including a deed for deed exchange of property between Presbytery of Wyoming and Tree of Life Church in North Casper. This was approved in April of 2023 and stilted energy in mediating conflict and resolution of how, when and under what circumstances to use the property.
- Extenuating health emergencies in Pastor Libby and Ani Wa Jessika's families, including Libby's husband and father and various mental health crises in Jessika's family and for Jessika herself.
The leadership team concluded that reorganizing the non-profit infrastructure of The Table by establishing a new, non-religious 501(c)3 called The Center for Compassion and Restoration would assist in finding financial and grant income to continue the great work of peace-building through our vision. The Board took steps to establish this entity legally with the state and federal government and to hire an Executive Director to lead this organization. This conclusion did not match the question of who we are as a radically inclusive church, on mission with the God of love. Instead of asking who we are and discerning possible next steps from there, we asked “what would solve this problem?” We perceived the problem to be the 'boulder' of lack of finances. This indeed, remains a very real boulder in the flow of our mission; but it is not the only boulder that blocks the river of The Table's impact. The leadership got stuck in problem solving rather than seeking out the energetic possibility of the future we wanted to belong to; and the energy which could sustain it. We answered the question “what are we?” with the tools we had at the time, but it was disingenuous with who we are.
At our core, in our DNA, is a prophetic and radically inclusive Christian community that wants to embody fresh expressions of church. We want to live out of the vitality of the answer to why we exist. There are many ways to embody this, including a newly formed organization that can take the DNA and impact of The Table further than it has ever been. But it does not need to be a non-religious 501(c)3.
What we cannot know right now is whether we have the actual financial or energetic resources to resurrect this mission and to be faithful to the programming required to carry out such a mission in Casper at this time.
The boulders of financial and energetic capacity blocked the flow of the mission of The Table and the Red Clay Abbey. The leadership got stuck in the disorienting eddy by asking what solves this problem, vs: who are we and what energetic capacity follows this why? The resultant cognitive dissonance, confusion and circumstantial undercurrents of conflict management, crisis response and mitigating intense chapters of dissipating energy among staff, board and participants meant a paralysis in understanding how to take the next right step.
In order to realign and answer wholeheartedly the question “who are we?” We are sunsetting this chapter of The Table's history in order to allow the co-creative energy of coming back into alignment with mission and motivation to be restored in rest, and sleep, and quiet.
As we experience the S U N S E T on this particular day in The Table's history, and we surrender to the gift of sleep, we trust that joy and hope will meet us in the sunrise after we allow our bodies to be restored and be aligned in the nighttime.
for help, and You
You, O Love, helped me release
my soul from dispair;
You gave me strength to face
my fear; now
Love is awakening in me.
Sing praises to the Beloved,
All You saints,
Giving thanks to Love’s holy Name.
Love withdraws when we close our hearts
Yet ever awaits an open door.
In the evening we may weep,
Yet joy comes with the morning.”
Psalm 30, “Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness” by Nan C. Merrill
Slumber & Nighttime:
The importance of rest and sabbath (holy pause) is ever present in our lives, it is the natural order of things. Barbara Brown Taylor refers to sabbath practice as that of “little death” - dying to the myth that we produce or manifest the growth or sustenance we long for. Every day is accompanied by a night. Every sunset surrenders to moonrise. The moon appears in many phases over the course of its cycle. Every year gifts us with seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter. Every human body is always transforming from younger to older, wiser; its cellular data is being rejuvenated on average every 7 years in every organ and system and component. We dreamed of offering this kind of space and modeling these kinds of rhythms because of the Red Clay Abbey. We're so grateful for the dreams we dreamt while Jessika modeled and embodied the mission of the Red Clay Abbey alongside The Table.
While we are taking this time of rest, we are invited to remember not to be afraid of what is in the dark. The darkness is restorative, it is hibernation, it is a time when the brain reorders and washes over the toxicity from the day.
At the heartbeat of our identity and theology as The Table community is an awareness of our daily needs: food, water, rest, love, relationship. At the very center of our practices we have always prioritized honoring these needs and seeking ways to give and receive hospitality in meeting them. We need food every day, we need sleep every day, we need water every day, we need the nourishment of love daily. Built into The Table's culture, we have honored the holiness of letting our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no”. We have taken pause and respite as needed along the way. Libby's sabbatical and Jessika's sabbath chapter modeled this to us.
Even though the nighttime is a more sustained form of rest; it is part of how The Table has been countercultural. In this slumber we commit to surrendering to what God is offering us -- compassion for ourselves and our staff -- one of whom is resigning and one of whom was terminated because they couldn't complete their job description.
We've been awake for 9 years, it is time for restful sleep. We do not yet know if this chapter of slumber will invite us into the darkness of the womb for rebirth; or the darkness of the tomb for surrendering to the end of this life-time. It could be both. We can't know until we've given our “yes” to God's invitation to lay down and sleep and dream. Sometimes “sleeping on it” is the holiest invitation we can receive from our good and loving God.
We will be preparing a bedtime routine for the community, for spiritual guidance during the nighttime. We plan to meet on the following Wednesdays at The Lyric for shared food & bedtime stories: September 6, and September 20th: 5:30pm for shared food; 6:30pm for shared reflection and ritual. We also plan to meet on October 18th at 5:30pm for a shared bonfire ritual that will help us to finally put to bed this chapter of The Table's history. Stay tuned for location.
The sunrise is always guaranteed but is always unknown. In the unknown is fear. We honor this; we too are uncertain about what The Table's sunrise will be - either the gift of remembering the stunningly bright & beautiful day before and moving on; or the gift of rising to a new day of labor and co-creation on mission. We have to sleep before we can access the sunrise.
Will You Join Us?
We invite you to join us in these next three chapters: sunset, slumber & sunrise. Will you join us in dreaming together? Participation is always by invitation, not demand.
September & October
September 6th - gathering at The Lyric, 5:30pm and 6:30pm
September 20th - gathering at The Lyric, 5:30pm and 6:30pm
October 18th - Bonfire Bedtime Ritual, location TBD
Pastor Libby is available for one-to-one or small group gatherings, just ask.
Pick up your “Slumber Tool Bag”; a retreat bag with materials for spiritual
practices while resting. A digital version will also be available on the website.
October 31st - Libby’s final day as paid pastor.
Beginning November 1st
- A “Dream Box” will be available on our website, thetablecasper.org, for you to stop in and comment on what is stirring for you.
- The Table’s Board will be meeting monthly to tend to business and quiet, communal discernment of what our slumber is teaching us.
We will be in touch as a sunrise becomes visible and discerned.
We recognize that with change comes uncertainty. Nothing about The Table's future has ever been certain. We entrust ourselves to the kind and deep care of God.
May Love Be Our Compass -
Pastor Libby Tedder Hugus &
The Table Board:
President - John Gagliardo
Vice President - Missy Nack
Secretary - Meg Cartisano
Member at Large - Eathan Murphy
Treasurer - vacant