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How Hosting The Sunday Paper Dinner Club Has Changed My Perspective on Life and Community

by SHERI LYONS

Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper has been a weekly stop on my spiritual journey. This ritual read deepens my connection with myself and sets the tone for my week. Guided by faith and intuition, I answered Maria’s call to sit down next to someone unexpected, find common ground, and start a friendship. What transpired has enriched my life in ways I never imagined.

Gather. Share. Find common ground.” It sounded simple but felt complicated because of all of my thinking around it. We were settled into our routine, our social circle and the rhythm of our Sundays. Our Sunday Dinner with a small group of family and friends was the steady beat in the heart of our home. I found comfort in the predictable cadence and familiar harmonies of the day. I was afraid of inviting into our home dissonance from the divisive noise that lingered at our door.

But my curiosity was stronger than my fear. I wondered if we were talking about the things that really mattered. I wondered if our attachment to the security of our habits was denying us an opportunity to appreciate the bigger picture. I imagined creating an opportunity for the many who hunger for connection more than a meal. I set my intention on more meaningful conversations around an infinite table.

I began by weaving the meaningful conversation prompts into our Sunday Dinner conversations. It felt awkward at first, but we got past the joking and resistance and settled into the sharing and listening. We then started capturing our own ideas in a meaningful conversation jar that sits on our kitchen table. I loved when my children and their friends pointed us to what was important to them through tightly folded yellow sticky notes layered in a ball jar. I loved the moments that their wisdom graced the topics important to me. I learned something new about my husband of 25 years and found areas to explore with my children. I felt the common ground of our connections strengthen through each meaningful conversation.

I saw the potential that this simple act had to heal and build bridges. I was compelled to share this gift by reimagining our Sunday Dinner. We embraced being uncomfortable and let our strength shine through our vulnerability as we opened our family table to the world.

We invited readers of The Sunday Paper that we did not know outside of a private Facebook group. We invited neighbors in our community and people who might otherwise be alone. I opened up a conference line for virtual participation and shared an invitation on my public Facebook page. The invitation is simple. Come gather, share, and find common ground. Our table is your table, and all are welcome.

The response has been incredible. Since June, we have welcomed into our home unexpected guests from 15+ states and 3 countries. We have met kind, gutsy, curious people with beautiful, open hearts. Our faith and trust have been echoed by them as they travel great distances to be with us, having never met us before. Each week new friends come along and the Sunday Dinner Club circle grows. There is a special connection that permeates this group. Members support each other from a distance, going to extraordinary lengths to show care, offer assistance, or simply walk beside someone in need. When I finally meet a member face to face, it feels like I am reuniting with a dear friend. I’ve loved hearing each one of their stories and, in doing so, I have recognized my own. This experience has taught me that there are no strangers if we know ourselves and that there is really only one story.

The number of people around the table varies but the format stays the same. We start with grace and gratitude, share introductions and what brought us to the table, and then I facilitate meaningful conversation following the Sunday Paper prompt. We listen to understand. We practice non-judgement and stay grounded in acceptance and kindness. I often wonder what would happen in our families and our communities if we were all looking to rise above the noise and to find common ground. We always find what we are looking for.

I am grateful for the gift of the Sunday Dinner Club. We open our hearts and our minds every time we take a seat at the table. Listening develops compassion, which helps us to see the world differently. Sharing helps us to find our voices and see ourselves differently. Human connection can bridge any divide. I have a renewed sense of hope that together we can move humanity forward one human interaction and one dinner table at a time. We are all architects of change.

This essay was featured in the Oct. 20th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.

SHERI LYONS

Sheri Lyons is a manager of The Sunday Paper Facebook Ambassador Group. She lives in New York.

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