For thirteen years now, a growing partnership of church communities hosted by and for LGBT people has been creating safe spaces for those who find the idea of church threatening, but feel the need for spiritual places of peace and acceptance.
The first Open Table community began in June 2008 because many church congregations do not offer a kind or an honest welcome to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA).
Many have been cold-shouldered, excluded or actually ejected from church. Some have been subjected to ‘conversion therapy’ – attempts to change their gender identity or sexual orientation – which the Bishop of Manchester has recently described as ‘conversion abuse’.
Churches, which should be loving communities, often play a part in causing pain, trauma and dangerously low self-esteem for LGBTQIA+ people. But new research shows that LGBTQIA+ people, who have suffered alienation and isolation from churches, reported hugely improved well-being after joining an Open Table community.
The Open Table Network (OTN) now has 18 communities across England and Wales which invite LGBTQIA people to come, just as they are, bringing their families, friends and allies; to belong, and to learn for themselves that they are, without doubt, equal children of God.
OTN became a charity in March 2021, and commissioned Civil Society Consulting CIC to conduct independent research into the impact of Open Table communities, to support our future growth and development.
The research report reflects the experiences of Open Table community members, volunteers and leaders from across the Network. Here are just a few quotes from people who take part in communities in person and online.
“Open Table means everything to me, it has truly saved me.”
“OTN was really good for my mental health, but super fun because I’ve been part of it.”
“It’s just one of the greatest things I think I’ve ever been part of. I’ve loved it.”
“In Open Table I found a community of people, open, loving, genuine in a way that often you don’t find in your regular faith community because people are vulnerable and have been through the hedge backwards… This is genuine, this is hopeful, if only every church could be like this.”
The report, Open Table Network: Research and Case For Support 2021, is out now, and we are very proud to be preparing to establish even more Open Table communities around the UK.