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Voices Together #801, “I’m Gonna Eat at the Welcome Table”

This article is part originally appeared as a part of the Mennonite Church USA MennoSnapshots series on Voices Together.

The following essay will be included in a forthcoming collection of notes about Voices Together songs, which will be available at The content of this particular essay grew from discussions among the committee and a group of African American consultants. It was written by Shannon Dycus, Bradley Kauffman, and Katie Graber.

“I am grateful to the work of the Voices Together team and Shannon Dycus in particular for flagging the history of this African American song and how it was co-opted. We at MennoMedia plan to update the song in future printings of Sing the Journey to match how it will appear in Voices Together,” said Amy Gingerich, MennoMedia publisher and executive director.


Songs, like verses from Scripture, emerge from specific times and places, and also speak beyond their immediate contexts. Many melodies hold deep yearnings for justice and holy entry into divine unity.

Intercultural competence invites us to listen for context, acknowledge social location and power, and humbly engage others toward understanding.

The first known record of this African American spiritual, commonly known as “Welcome Table,” is a 1922 recording by the Florida Normal and Industrial Quartette:

I’m gonna eat at the welcome table (Hallelujah) . . . some of these days.
I’m gonna shake glad hands with Jesus (Hallelujah) . . . some of these days.
God’s gonna set this world on fire (Hallelujah) . . . some of these days.
I’m gonna walk and talk with Jesus (Hallelujah) . . . some of these days.
I’m gonna drink at the crystal fountain (Hallelujah) . . . some of these days.
I’m gonna eat at the welcome table (Hallelujah) . . . some of these days.

As with many songs from African American traditions, these verses proclaim the power and truth of God’s justice.

“Welcome Table” has been sung, recorded, and published in various forms for over a century. The 1930 publication The Negro Sings a New Heaven includes a verse “I’m gonna tell God how you treat me.” During the American (USA) civil rights movement the song took on contemporary potency, confronting white supremacy. One of the more famous adaptations of the song during this period was the verse “I’m gonna sit at the Woolworth counter.” This proclamation confronted the individual and systemic discrimination that were prolonging racial segregation of public spaces and denying access to services and human dignity.

For songs that emerge from enslavement and sustained disenfranchisement, a version chosen for worship should amplify historical sources and current use in African American congregations.

Here are practical suggestions for songs from African American traditions:
– Honor African American history regardless of whether it is the central theme of the worship context
– Include songs from African American traditions as a regular part of worship, and not as an occasional “novelty”
– Intersperse songs with stories of civil rights work or other historical context
– Learn from conversations with communities of origin
– Listen to historical and contemporary African American recordings of this song

Composer Alice Parker included this tune in her 1976 folk opera The Family Reunion, in which she adapted the language to “you’ve got a place.” In Sing the Journey (2005), the song (#4) is presented in Parker’s (unattributed) adaptation, and while the text may seem to make an inclusive statement, it actually establishes one person or group as having power over others. Singing welcome is important, but misrepresenting this song does not reach this goal. It both undermines the call for justice and erases the vision and voices of those proclaiming God’s welcome.

The alteration of the words in Sing the Journey has harmed some African American communities. We lament this, and in response, offer this historical version that is used in African American congregations. By returning to a version sung in African American communities, all can join in singing directly to God, claiming God’s welcome, and demanding justice for God’s people. In this text the singer proclaims, in the first person, their own birthright to sit at God’s abundant table of welcome.


Voices Together #801 “I’m Gonna Eat at the Welcome Table”:

I’m gonna eat at the welcome table (Hallelujah!) . . . some of these days.
God’s gonna set this world on fire (Hallelujah!) . . . some of these days.
I’m gonna walk and talk with Jesus (Hallelujah!) . . . some of these days.
I’m gonna drink at the crystal fountain (Hallelujah!) . . . some of these days.

Posted on: October 10th, 2020 by Voices Together Hymnal