We all know the joy of gathering around a table with good food and conversation shared with loved ones in community. A Place at the Table, by a mother/daughter team, is a reminder of just how precious and far-reaching a posture of hospitality might extend. It is an invitation to gather more often around a table.
Miranda Harris and her husband Peter committed their adult lives to the founding and growing of A Rocha, a Christian environmental stewardship organization. Their hopes for more restful retirement years ended when Miranda was killed in a 2019 car crash that also took the lives of A Rocha international director Chris Naylor and his wife Suzanne. A husband, family, and extended community were plunged into deep grief.
Daughter Jo Swinney recalls the rescuing of her mum’s journal from the stream at the accident scene and reading what was to be her mum’s last entry. Months later the family came across a binder that contained the makings of a book on hospitality that Miranda had hoped to write when she had time.
Swinney committed herself to fulfilling her mom’s dream by writing this book, interacting with her mom’s notes, journal entries, and stories. It tells of a family whose mother gave so much of herself to make her home a place of genuine joy and welcome.
Miranda’s journal entries reveal what it was like being a host family for the first A Rocha site in Portugal. As much as place and food are important, it is the people and the opportunity for deep and rich conversation that bring purpose to Miranda’s hospitality. It is not hard to imagine this woman asking someone to add a chair to the already long table, knowing that there is always enough for everyone who needs nourishment.
Swinney fills out her mum’s writing with her own reflections, both from her childhood and as an adult offering hospitality in her own home as a pastor’s spouse with young children. She learned much from her mum even as she had to learn to open her home to others in a way that works for her family today.
Both women are able to reflect honestly about the need for balance as weariness and even resentment can take hold if one does not set boundaries and build in time for personal renewal.
The book has a chapter on feasting together, from hunger and preparation to welcome and sitting at the table, followed by the important and often lowly task of cleaning up. Hospitality is a foretaste of the forever feast, made more poignant by this family’s loss and longing for the person who often gathered them together.
Interspersed are Swinney’s creative retellings of familiar Bible stories about hospitality and sharing food.
A Place at the Table is a story of faith, hope, and hospitality and a celebration of a woman, a family, and a global community. It is an inspiration to welcome friends and strangers and extend the table in the name of Christ.