|God & Nature Magazine||
the community table: interview with Marianne Johnson
by Ciara Reyes
Come on home, home to me
And I will hold you in my arms
And joyful be
There will always, always be
A place for you at my table
Return to me.”
-At the Table by Josh Garrels
“I have always loved the song “At the Table” by Josh Garrels because it reminds me of the way God invites broken, imperfect people to the table to commune with Him,” shares Marianne Johnson, an optometrist with a passion for connecting young professionals to Christ-centered community.
Marianne grew up in Hunstville, Alabama, attending Auburn University for her B.S in Biomedical Science, and the University of Alabama School of Optometry. She completed her residency training in Ocular Disease and Low Vision Rehabilitation at the Veteran Administration Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky. During her time in Lexington, Marianne experienced what she describes as a “particularly lonely season of life,” but “by God’s grace (she) came across a dinner club” that would become a major source of friendship and community for her, in addition to the inspiration behind a dinner gathering she would later start called “The Community Table.”
Ciara Reyes: What is The Community Table, and what does a typical gathering look like?
Marianne Johnson: The Community Table is a dinner club that meets twice a month to share a meal in someone’s home. We typically share a “family style” dinner with 40-50 people. The purpose is to provide a place for young adults and young professionals from across the city of Nashville to connect. We desire to cultivate an environment of love for Jesus Christ and kindness for one another through graciously sharing our stories with friends. We always request that people introduce themselves and spend time talking with at least one new person. Prioritizing time for people to share their stories with others is critical.
Sometimes, we invite guest speakers to share their testimony with the entire group. Those who have vulnerably shared have tremendously blessed our group and allowed others with similar experiences to realize that they are not alone in their trials. It breeds hope in our community. “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.” Revelation 12:11.
CR: What does the word “community” mean to you?
MJ: For me, the word “community” means a network of individuals who know and are known by others. The ideal community is based on the love of Jesus. Building unity and bonds of love in Christ enables individuals to both individually and corporately thrive.
CR: The Community Table was inspired by your own positive experience with a similar community during a challenging period of life. Can you share a little more about the group’s origins and your vision for the group?
MJ: From the first night that I came across that dinner and fellowship gathering, I experienced the love, encouragement, and friendship of Jesus through the people in the group. The group was designed for young adults to connect and have a place of belonging. Kind of like a family.
The Lord put it in my heart to attempt to develop something similar in Nashville because of the tremendous impact that community made on my life during a challenging period. I also believe there is something very beautiful found when denominational divisions in the church are minimized and the ecumenical church is walking in unity. In addition, there is an increasing number of young adults moving away from home and needing a place of familial belonging.
I have been humbled by the movement of the Holy Spirit in our group. It has been encouraging to see people press into community during very difficult trials. Also, it has brought absolute joy to celebrate friendships, generational connections, job promotions, engagements, and weddings!
CR: What is the importance of Christian community and connection in your own life as a young professional? What role has it played for those who attend The Community Table?
MJ: My pastor has said many times... it is almost impossible to be a healthy Christian without community. No human was meant to live life in isolation. Our individualistic culture has inappropriately heightened pursuit of personal success and minimized the quintessential need of being known by others. Being known by others requires multiple organic, anticlimactic conversations with others in pursuit of friendship. The endless programs, work schedule, gym visits, and grocery store stops have proven ineffective in meeting this need.
In my life, I have been humbled by the incredible people that I have met in my community. I also am thankful to Jesus to have witnessed the multifaceted healing and wholeness that individuals experience through connection.
CR: As a Christian who is a scientist, do you find that you compartmentalize the different communities you are a part of - scientific, professional and Christian (church and the Community Table)? Have you found places where they converge or ways to merge them?
MJ: I do compartmentalize my communities to some degree. Since Community Table is for young adults, this limits my connection with my professional life. However, I hope to integrate my communities more. Many people in this demographic have been transplanted in a variety of cities and would immensely benefit from this type of community. I desire to connect various social, spiritual, and professional communities because this promotes both individual and societal growth.
CR: If you had to pick one scripture that embodied the mission of The Community Table, what would it be?
MJ: I believe the Bible is packed full of verses about the benefits and importance of meeting together. If I had to choose one:
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25
Ciara Reyes is a scientist, singer-songwriter and freelance writer, who joined the God & Nature staff in June 2017 as Managing Editor. She has a Ph.D. in Cellular & Molecular Biology from the University of Michigan.
For Marianne Johnson's bio, see the main text