STLT#407, We’re Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table

Use this hymn with great care.

I cannot stress this enough.

Use with care. Really. Give context. Use it in the right context.

This lesson is one I learned thanks to friend and colleague Dawn Fortune, a white minister whose allyship shone brightly the day we sang this at a collegial training as though “the welcome table” meant happy fun times for us. Dawn reminded us that this was a song from the time of slavery.

Now it is true that there are about as many versions as there are verses – by which I mean there are many many verses we don’t print in our hymnal. For example (from a 1930 article called “The Negro Sings a New Heaven” by Mary Allen Grissom, quoted at The Mudcat Café – spelling as presented in the original, or you’d see [sic] all over the place):

I’m gonna tell God how you treat me…

I’m gonna cross thuh river of Jurdun…

I’m gonna drink uv thuh healin’ waters…

I’m gonna drink and nevuh get thirsty…

I’m gonna eat off thuh welcome table…

I’m gonna walk an’ talk wid Jesus…

I’m gonna ride in thuh charet wid Jesus…

I’m gonna shout an’ not be weary…

You’re gonna wish that you’d-a been ready…

God’s gonna set yo’ sins befo’ you…

God’s gonna bring this world to judgment…

And there are more. Many many more. I learned the first verse as “I’m gonna set the world on fire.” But all sung from a positions of resistance. And on that bright summer day in Bloomington, Minnesota, we were not singing from a position of resistance but one of privilege.

We’re gonna sit at the welcome table.
We’re gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days, hallelujah!
We’re gonna sit at the welcome table,
gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days.

All kinds of people around that table…

No fancy style at the welcome table…

And so I mean it: use this one with care. Because the welcome table is the one we who are privileged have not laid out for everyone, and we have to. If we’re going to be serious about Susan Frederick-Gray’s assertion that “no one is outside the circle of love” then we have to be serious about setting the table for those who are knocking to come in.

I end with this short video of Ysaye Barnwell, with some folks at the 2014 spring cleaning & celebration/memorial at Love Cemetery in Marshall, TX. Not because it’s an amazing version, but because it reflects the grit and heart of what it means to sing together in these moments.

2 Comments

  1. To me this hymn is about the heaven we are striving to make on earth, and the hope and faith in it are so powerful that I can’t sing it without crying. I hope my congregation doesn’t think of their privilege when we sing it. I’m thinking about how I’d introduce it to make it clear that the confidence in it isn’t about smug certainty, as if we’ve planned a dinner party and soon it’s going to start and isn’t that nice, but about confidence that God (or whatever it is that makes justice in the universe) IS at work. The power comes from the longing for “one of these days” to come soon.

  2. Pingback: STLT#414, As We Leave This Friendly Place – Notes from the Far Fringe

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