If you look around a Chase Oaks campus on Sunday morning, chances are you won’t notice anyone who looks obviously poverty stricken. Yet poverty and need is all too real in our community and our church. Ask Shannan McEowen.
For the past six years, Shannan and her family have been involved in a program called Open Table. As one of the ministries of Chase Oaks Church, Open Table is part of the national, faith-based Open Table organization that brings together groups of 6-12 volunteers around a person or family in need. Volunteers agree to a one-year commitment to be part of a support network for a brother or sister in need who has been screened for their willingness and desire to improve their life.
Through Shannan’s leadership, my wife Heather and I got involved several years ago with our first Open Table, and it was a powerful learning and growing experience. Shannan, we found out, has a heart as big as Texas, and epitomizes the Chase Oaks mission of making a difference. I sat down this month to talk with Shannan about her experience with this ministry.
Shannan, you’ve had a pretty good run with Open Table (OT)at Chase Oaks. How did you come to get involved with the OT ministry?
Oh, it’s a long story [laughs]… but it started when my husband Brad and I read a book called Same Kind of Different as Me. It’s a story about two men, Denver Moore and Ron Hall, a homeless man and an art dealer in Ft. Worth, and their journey of friendship (well worth reading, and being released as a movie in October 2017). In late 2010 they came out with a second book—a sequel which we also read—and in that book Denver makes the statement that “if the church was really serious about ending homelessness, we could do it in 30 days—we don’t need a 10-year plan.” His point was that in each church you have the resources that you need to walk alongside one person, and that we have more churches than we have homeless people. That idea really gripped me and Brad, and we started thinking, “What would that look like?” About four months later, a friend who knew of our heart on the subject sent us an invite to a meeting where a man named John Katov from the Open Table was speaking. When we heard about Open Table, we knew this was just what we were looking for because each table contained people filling chairs for housing and finance, and healthcare and all the components of a person’s life. I felt like the plan Katov expressed was the same vision that Denver expressed in his book.
So within about three months, we had our first volunteers; and our first table started in September of 2011.
Wow. That was fast. How many tables have you served on now?
Oh my. I have personally been on six, but I have helped about 75 tables get started… across the country. At one time we had about 12 congregations in the Dallas area doing Open Table, and they each did 1-5 tables… For almost five years, I worked as a full-time volunteer for Open Table. I also helped create training materials, the handbook, the training, that sort of thing.
How has the OT ministry impacted you and your family?
Man, it’s hard to know where to start….I feel like it’s given us a bigger heart to reach out to those in need, but it’s also given us wisdom to know how to help people. I’ve learned… that what people need is friendship, and really listening to them and getting to know them, and not just writing a check and giving them “stuff.”
And yet that’s often what we think that’s what people want. They want a handout… they want money.
Right! Well, and honestly that’s what we want to do, too [laughs]. I just want to write a check and be on my way….But really it’s the richness of the relationships and the understanding of their story and them understanding my story… that’s where the real heart of giving is.
When you think about Plano, Murphy, Allen and the north Dallas area, poverty really isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. What have you learned through Open Table about the factors that cause some people to struggle in the midst of our affluent community?
Yeah, a couple of thoughts. I had the faulty belief that everyone starts out in their place in life in the same place as I did. So I basically walked around thinking that everyone had the same experiences I did. And that’s so flawed! I used to think poverty was a lack of understanding to manage resources, but I would say it’s way bigger than that… they don’t have the opportunity to have people open doors for them or help them with connections or understand their way through something. It’s also connected to their family of origin, too… as we tend to repeat what we’ve grown up with.
What has OT taught you about God?
That He is very patient [laughs] and gracious and kind. I’ve seen Him come through so many times in seemingly hopeless situations where I didn’t know how things were going to come together. It’s a place every table needs to get to. That we don’t have the answer, because then you have to turn to the Lord, and His answer is always… better. But I have learned that He is faithful and gracious and kind.
This winter you reached out to former Table members to see whether anyone else shared your vision to keep OT as a viable ministry at Chase Oaks. Out of this came a new core Leadership Team that meets regularly with you to help run the program and recruit new Table volunteers. What does it mean to you to have a leadership team after six years of mostly going it on your own?
Yeah, it’s a huge relief and gives me a lot of hope. Because honestly I’m tired. It’s emotionally draining to know about so many needs and to see so much hurt. So it’s a real thrill to know that there’s a group of people that are going to walk alongside me—that I get to actually walk alongside them…I feel like it gives Open Table a chance to exist well past me, which is good [ha!]. And there will be new and fresh ideas and fresh energy… you know, everything that comes along with bringing new blood into something. It’s really good.
If someone is interested in this Open Table ministry, what would you suggest as a next step?
I would definitely suggest that they plan to serve on a Table. It’s important for everyone to know that [to help people] you don’t have to do it alone. Being part of a group means you don’t have to be an expert… we provide training and support to walk alongside you. I find a lot of comfort in the truth that we don’t have to have all the answers, that there will be a group of us, and together we’ll brainstorm and pray and watch God lead us to good answers for the folks we’re serving.
How can people get involved in OT?
Contact us directly. We have a new email address. If you want to talk to us about the OT ministry, anyone can contact me or Tiffany Lauterbach on the Leadership Team at . We are actively looking to add new folks to tables and will be delighted to hear from you.