Room at the Table: Connections Banquet 2016

When thinking back on homecoming dances in high school, the word awkward comes to mind. What were intended to be fun and celebratory events were mostly stress-inducing for me, and not just because I had to build up the courage to even think about asking someone out.

I remember my freshman year attending the basketball game all dressed up and anticipating the dance that was to happen afterwards. You see, the thing I wanted most was to be part of the "in" crowd. But the reality was that I didn't have a close group of friends. Throughout the course of the game, I began to think to myself, "Why am I even going to this dance? Will people want me to dance with them? Or will I be all alone out there?"

And so, with anxiety overtaking my thoughts, I called my parents and had them pick me up after the game so that I didn't have to endure what untold suffering I would have experienced at the dance. My striving to "make it" with the popular crowd had failed. Defeated, I snuck out of the gym, hoping that no one would notice yet ultimately longing for an invitation to belong.
What I experienced my freshman year of high school is nothing like the Connections Banquet, a different sort of celebration.

An Inclusive, Medieval-themed Celebration

Connections Banquet Grandville Calvin Christian High School students and alumni dressed up in costumes fitting with the evening's theme, "A Royal Evening in Medieval Times".

Connections is a program started over 20 years ago at South Christian High School (Grand Rapids, MI) but has since spread to other schools in West Michigan. The goal is to foster friendships between students at all levels of ability and disability. The Connections Banquet occurs each spring and serves to celebrate the relationships that are built throughout the year. It's an inclusive night of fun, entertainment, and dancing for high school students, alumni, and friends.

This year, the theme was "A Royal Evening in Medieval Times". It really felt like we were attending a royal feast inside a castle with all the great decorations and costumes. People participated in fun games, a coloring contest, and photo booth before eating dinner. Afterwards, we enjoyed watching a beautiful dance by God's Girls as well as a performance by the hilarious Grandville Calvin Christian High School Improv Team. As usual, we closed out the night with an epic dance party.
What I experienced at the Connections Banquet is nothing less than what I believe to be a manifestation of God's kingdom. In God's kingdom, we welcome one another as equals and honored guests, no matter one's level of popularity, success, or ability. There is no need to try to fit in, because we already belong.

Students dressed like kings at the banquet Students, like Jacob and Cam from South Christian High, enjoyed wearing crowns and participating in royalty-themed games and activities.

But that's not what we experience most of our lives. Our society often views people in light of what they "have to offer". It's as if we are on a ladder competing to get to the top. And it's an unstable ladder, because right when we think we're at the top, someone might push us out of the way or we might fall. Try as we might, we can't ever quite make it.

Belonging at the Table

As I reflect on the differences between this celebration and my experience in high school, I think of the many references in the Bible to banquets. These celebrations are used as metaphors for God's kingdom. In his kingdom, much like at the Connections Banquet, we are seated around a table. And like a meal at the table, life is meant to be shared. Those who are lonely, those who are athletic, those who struggle with school, those who are popular – the guest list is open to everyone.

Although the Connections Banquet happens once a year, it serves as a powerful reminder of the hidden reality that Christians are to strive to make manifest daily: although we are all different, we are not alone, and in fact, we need each other. Let us remember how Jesus humbled himself, his body broken on the cross, to unite us. And may we be reminded that when we fall from our ladders, no matter how broken we are, there is room for all of us at the table.

To see more pictures of the 2016 Connections Banquet, visit the All Belong Facebook page.


James Kessel, Jr.James Kessel is the evaluation services coordinator at All Belong.