Boundaries at morning tea

Nicky Lock

Whoever thought that morning tea after church could be so problematic that I would bother to blog about it! Surely we are just all gasping for a cuppa/hit of caffeine by that time of the morning?  Yet at a recent talk I gave on boundaries at a local church, there was considerable discussion about what was the “right” thing to do at morning tea time.

I have heard numerous announcements about the nowadays inevitable refreshments after church: the warm invitation to newcomers to join us and get to know other members of the church, the exhortation to “continue your fellowship” over morning tea, or to share personally with some fellow imbibers about how the preaching affected you.

When discussing how to set “boundaries” around what we do in various settings, one person shared the possible scenario of being at morning tea and seeking to join a group of two who seemed to be in conversation. On politely asking “may I join you”, one of the pair replies “sorry, we’re having a rather private conversation here”.  According to some ideas about how to “set boundaries”, this would seem to be a reasonable response: the joiner suggested that they would be hurt by such an answer.

Is the joining person being rather sensitive? Is it the right thing for the pair to be having such a conversation in the open space of the morning tea room when church members are supposedly meant to be “having fellowship” at this time?

Acts 2:42 tells us that the new converts “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship“.  The root word of “fellowship” seems to have two aspects: sharing in an activity (taking part in something together which has both the horizontal aspects of relating to one another in the Body of Christ and the vertical aspects of sharing in our Lord God through Christ in the power of the spirit) , and the sharing with fellow believers.  

This would seem to suggest that in the above scenario both sets of people could be “right” – the pair in discussion could be ministering to one another (or one was doing the ministering) and so would be doing fellowship as one shared the other’s burden, and maybe shared a scripture with them or prayed for them. Yet the outsider has felt rejected and maybe they too needed the companionship of the two on conversation.

Whoever thought that just going to morning tea could throw up such ethical dilemmas? Will I ever simply enjoy my longed for caffeine hit again without stressing about how to be?