Young Life Lite

You wouldn’t make the mistake of sitting at the wrong table in most high school cafeterias. Cafeteria regulars know their place — and yours. It’s dictated by an unseen, unchanging seating chart. It’s the same at Riverside Brookfield High School, in Chicago’s western suburbs. The school of 1,450 draws an ethnically and socio-economically diverse student body from three communities. Soccer players sit with teammates. Kids in the band eat lunch with other kids in the band. And seniors don’t eat with freshmen. Ever.

The 12th-grade leadership team of Riverside Brookfield Young Life scrambled that seating chart for one special night last year. Area Director Jonathon Gorny explained that every summer he challenges senior leaders to develop a thesis statement to guide them as they plan the year’s activities. In August 2012, a group of 11 seniors  arrived at this statement of purpose: “Imperfect Christians strengthening our Young Life family through genuine relationships and intentional conversations.”

Focused on the idea of family, the seniors considered what families do together (easy — they eat together!) and what that might look like in the kingdom of God. Inspired by Jesus’ parable in Luke 14 about a certain man hosting a great banquet who wanted his house to be full (even with people who were not usually on the “A” list), the seniors decided to host their own banquet. Gorny said, “They all stacked hands and it was settled. We’re going to live out and give an experience of what it was like to be in Christ’s kingdom at a banquet.”

On Dec. 12, the seniors prepared a surprise feast for all who attended club that night. It began like a typical Young Life club at Riverside United Methodist Church, “but it seemed to go really fast,” according to junior Vanessa Jebb. “I wondered why.” The club speaker ended with the invitation, “Brookfield, Riverside, North Riverside, you all are invited to this banquet, will you take your seat at the table?” With that, senior leaders joined the group and asked the 115 gathered to follow them down the hall.

The underclassmen didn’t know a group of seniors were about to serve them a three-course pasta and chicken dinner they had planned and prepared themselves. Vanessa said, “I wondered if we were going to be led to a big room to play dodgeball or something. But instead, we walked into a room lit with Christmas lights and candles. It was  so beautiful.”

What Vanessa loved most of all was the table. “Inside the  room was a huge connected table so we could all sit together,  everyone included.”

Hannah Claywell, one of the seniors who served, recalls the same thing. “That night was so unbelievably amazing. I remember walking around, talking and serving, and getting all these heartfelt thanks. But what I remember most was seeing our whole Riverside Brookfield Young Life family around one table and thinking I should be the one thanking them! The banquet was an awesome way to show how much our family means to us.”

Like the high school cafeteria, in this banquet hall everyone gathered knew their place. It was at the only table in the room. The one marked “reserved,” for every kid who accepts the invitation to join the family at the table of God.​​