Now a tradition at the Walla Walla University Church, the congregation welcomed students back the first Sabbath of the school year with the Longest Table. Because the University Church exists primarily to serve students, the church members hope the Longest Table will bring students quickly into friendships in their new congregation.
With the city of College Place, Wash., giving approval and assistance, Fourth Street was blocked off from College Avenue to Davis Avenue, about a quarter mile, for the event. Church members set up about 180 tables end to end. Each table, in white tablecloths, seated eight for Sabbath dinner.
Church members had preselected tables — some taking three or four and others taking only one — and had planned complete sit-down Sabbath dinners for their guests. Hosts decorated tables and provided food — some ethnic, some traditional, but all in abundance.
Donny Veverka, University Church worship director and longtime member, calls this "a phenomenal event of blessing others and being blessed in our community [that] must be experienced to be understood."
Hosts planned for leftovers to send home with students after the meal. Leftover homemade dessert later in the dorm is also part of the Longest Table tradition.
"The Longest Table is a great way for us to get to know the church members," says Kelia Cook. "It's amazing how much good food they make. It makes us feel very loved and excited to be at Walla Walla University."
Returning student Rychelle Willis says, "I look forward to the Longest Table every year. It's such a fun way to fellowship with other students and church members."