Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Leadership Circle interactive newsletter.

Shepherd’s Table in Sioux Falls, S.D., formed around the idea of a dinner church, is leading with a radical welcome to all under the vision of “building a longer table.” The community’s name is meant to remind us of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and carries a second meaning as well. “We also lift up the memory of Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old Wyoming college student, who was brutally attacked and murdered for being gay,” the Shepherd’s Table website reads.

Sawyer Vanden Heuvel, pastor and mission developer of Shepherd’s Table, grew up in a church community in which he saw no place for himself as a gay man. As a young adult in college, he decided, along with some friends, to check out a local ELCA congregation. “When I stepped into an ELCA congregation for the first time,” he recalled, “and truly felt welcomed to participate in all of the goodness that comes through being in worship and in community life, this became the first step to knowing and trusting that there’s still something out there for me. God did not give up on me.”

Vanden Heuvel got the idea for Shepherd’s Table after attending the 2021 Sioux Falls Pride Festival, where he managed a table, representing the Lutheran community, to show God’s love for all people. “Some folks I visited with just felt like there was no place for them in Sioux Falls to be welcomed in a faith community,” he said. “[They are] people longing for a place to fit in, longing for a place to belong, to share their own faith journey with folks as well as looking to grow their own faith and spirituality in a safe environment.”

Fast-forward to December 2023: Shepherd’s Table hosted a community-wide launch event, attended by more than 100 people. This January, Shepherd’s Table began meeting monthly for dinner church at the new Prism Center in Sioux Falls, which offers a welcoming and affirming space for LGBTQIA+ people. The group plans to host a few more informal social events this summer, such as a community picnic, brewery meet-ups and game nights.

“To witness the Holy Spirit make dreams like this become realized for a public, unapologetic, unashamed ministry of the church that is focused on supporting LGBTQIA+ people and their families moves me deeply,” said Vanden Heuvel, “because I know this, without a doubt, will become life-saving and vital work for many who call South Dakota home.”

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