Oreoluwa Eni-Ibukun is deconstructing spirituality for young Nigerians with The Table

Oreoluwa Eni-Ibukun is deconstructing spirituality for young Nigerians with The Table

In Nigeria, religion isn’t something you wear on Sundays; it’s woven into the fabric of daily life. From bustling markets to quiet family dinners, faith is a constant presence. But what happens when that devotion becomes too intense, stifling individuality and sparking conflict?

Meet Oreoluwa (Ore) Eni Ibukun, a forensic accountant who isn’t afraid to challenge the norm. Together with her friend Kamsy, they built something revolutionary: The Table Community. The Table Community isn’t your typical place of worship. It’s a space for young Nigerians to have open and honest conversations about spirituality. It’s a safe haven where they can question their beliefs and explore new ways of thinking.

In today’s MCN Work Life, Ore shares her personal journey as a leader in this innovative community. She’ll talk about their challenges and the victories that have fueled their movement.

Is blind faith the only option, or can open dialogue pave a new path forward? Read on and discover the power of questioning what you know.

If you were a different person, how would you describe yourself?

If I were outside my body, I’d like to see myself as kind and honest. People say I’m brilliant, and I’d like to believe them. Transparency is also very important to me.

What was your childhood dream job, and how did that translate to your current job?

Every week, I had a new dream job: pastor, doctor, detective (inspired by spy movies), and even skincare entrepreneur. I’ve always had varied interests. Eventually, I studied accounting at the University of Lagos, where I volunteered for a university fellowship and engaged in community work. During an essay competition on financial crimes, I discovered forensic accounting, which appealed to my “detective nature.” I now have five years of experience in this field.

In the first few years of my career, I organised hangouts with friends to have conversations on mental health and spirituality. I shared my faith and doubts online, leading many to suggest forming a group. I met Kamsy, my co-founder, through mutual friends who saw our shared views on religion and spirituality.

Kamsy and I met for drinks at a lounge, where we bonded over religion and faith. Recognising the need for a community, we decided to create The Table. Despite my demanding job, Kamsy, a freelancer, took on most of the work. We launched with a website, a WhatsApp group, and physical events. We just celebrated three years on June 6, 2024.

The Table Community

It’s interesting that you have both a finance and writing background. How did any of these career paths help or relate to your work at the Table?

At The Table, I manage the day-to-day operations. This includes website maintenance, coordinating volunteers, and setting up events with exciting collaborators. My co-founder, Kamsy, is the technical expert who builds the digital foundation of The Table. Together, we make a strong team!

Speaking of Kamsy, when my workload at my main job increased significantly a while back, she took on a much larger role in managing The Table’s operations. Her dedication is truly admirable.

My experience in volunteer work and at KPMG has equipped me well for this role. KPMG’s well-organized and process-driven approach to work aligns perfectly with my preferences. For example, I believe in having clear documentation. That’s why I wrote a comprehensive handbook for The Table, outlining everything needed to keep things running smoothly.

Kamsy, co-founder of The Table Community

Please give us a more in-depth view into your spiritual journey that led to founding The Table community

Raised in a deeply conservative evangelical household, my childhood faith was a curious mix. It emphasised holiness and living a Christ-like life, but this often came with a heavy dose of judgment and fear of eternal damnation for anything deemed sinful. I also dealt with some social anxiety because I didn’t fit in anywhere while also being hyper-judgemental.

Despite the pressure to conform, I was a naturally curious child. My inquisitive mind constantly wrestled with inconsistencies in the teachings.  Unlike some whose faith stemmed from a purely emotional connection, mine craved reason and logic. Questions swirled in my head—why were my friends and cousins allowed to wear things I wasn’t?  Would they be condemned for their jewellery and trousers?

However, this internal struggle didn’t diminish my love for church and theology. Sermons weren’t a time for drowsiness; they became catalysts for scribbling down my thoughts. Church also provided a sense of community, a refuge amidst the pressure to conform. Thankfully, despite their strictures, my parents fostered integrity and consistency in their beliefs, values I still hold dear.

As I matured, my questions grew more profound. I started to find inconsistencies in my understanding of the character and love of God. If God was truly all-loving and had made the ultimate sacrifice, why subject humanity to eternal punishment for sins committed in time? This idea of conditional love and endless suffering jarred with my understanding of a merciful God. I began voraciously consuming theological resources that posited a more inclusive theology regarding God’s love and character.

This transformation spanned years, and during one of these introspective journeys, I met Kamsy. We discovered a shared longing—a space where people could freely grapple with their faith, ask uncomfortable questions, and explore alternative interpretations without fear of judgment. The Table wasn’t born from a desire to convert or proselytise.

That’s fantastic! Can you take us through the process of launching The Table?

It wasn’t a grand vision or anything. Kamsy and I just started carving out time to brainstorm at coffee shops, laying the groundwork for the community. One day, with another friend in tow, we were tossing around names. I was reading a powerful article by my favourite theologian, Laura Jean Truman. She talked about a metaphorical table for the hungry, drawing inspiration from her communion at a monastery. The image resonated deeply. It captured the kind of community we envisioned:  not a place for rigid believers or jaded cynics but a space where people could come hungry for honest conversations and open to growth.

Kamsy got cracking on a Wix website, and I contacted friends to gauge their interest. We launched a WhatsApp group, and that was pretty much it.

Would you say that the community’s growth has been purely organic, or were intentional growth metrics made toward the community?

The Table started super intimate; everyone knew everyone. It fostered some incredible bonds, and I definitely miss that closeness a bit. But our growth has been totally organic, word-of-mouth all the way. We’re even considering putting a cap on membership—a bigger group means more moderation!  People find us by telling their friends; honestly, the questions we get crack me up sometimes. ‘Are there requirements?’ or ‘Is this like, anti-church?’ It’s not that serious, I promise! We’re just over 400 in the chat now, and yesterday’s event signup blew my mind—over 60 people! Sometimes it’s like, ‘Whoa, how did we get here?’ But then you remember that it’s all about helping people feel less alone in their faith journeys, which makes it all worthwhile.

One program at The Table that’s really caught my eye is “The Healing Circle.” It sounds like a powerful space for connection. Can you tell me more about it? What topics arise in these circles, and how do the conversations typically unfold?

Kamsy has a remarkable ability to sense the needs of the community. The Healing Circle was her idea. It started as a way to address specific situations. For instance, if someone shared something emotionally charged or if there was a major event happening, we’d create a virtual space for everyone to express their feelings and process them together. That’s why we made it virtual—it allows people worldwide to connect through shared experiences. The core idea was to let people know that their experiences were not unique and that others faced similar challenges.

The Table Community

I’m curious about The Table’s physical events!  What kinds of themes and sub-themes do you tackle in person?  Is there a specific approach you take to spark engaging conversations?

Our physical events come in different flavours, though the basic idea stays the same. The name just reflects the style of the gathering. For example, Breaking Bread is where a member graciously hosts others at their home for a potluck. Coffee on the Table is more casual—grab a coffee at a cafe and have some icebreakers or dive into deeper conversations, depending on the mood. Cocktails and Conversations are also similar. These are the main formats, though we also collaborate with other organisations for events with specific themes.

What have been your favourite moments from any of these events?

My favourite event ever? Our first Cocktails and Conversations, hands down!  It was almost a year after launch, with COVID restrictions just lifting. People were electric—a year of virtual conversations finally spilling over. The drinks helped loosen things up, and the conversations were incredible. We planned to wrap up around 8 pm, but people wouldn’t budge! Folks came from all over Lagos, yet they just wanted to keep talking, laughing, and having a blast. We ended up with music, dancing, and pure joy. That’s the magic of our events: they always seem to end with this feeling of connection and fun. Our second-anniversary bash on the beach was similar—games, dancing, just pure joy. Those moments stay with me—the pure, unadulterated fun and connection.

What would you say is the most thought-provoking conversation you have had at The Table?

I still recall snippets from our conversation with David Hayward, popularly known as The Naked Pastor, during our virtual Speaker Series. This series invites notable figures aligned with theology to discuss topics at The Table. I loved his session because of his unique background. After nearly 50 years as a Christian pastor, he shifted his theology, focusing on pastoring through writing and art.

Hayward spoke about freedom, and I eventually coined my personal definition of freedom from listening to him speak.

Oreoluwa Eni-Ibukun

Have there been challenges in running a multi-faith community?

Absolutely. Working in operations at The Table has taught me much about people management. The first hard truth I shared with Kamsy was that no community can be all-inclusive. The image of people holding hands in a circle might come to mind, but no matter how wide the circle is, there will always be boundaries, excluding some.

Initially, many people were interested in discussing spirituality, faith, and life. We started with ‘Table Manners,’ which were guidelines for conversations. However, we eventually needed to define our target audience clearly. While creating safe spaces is important, we must be specific about who we make them for to ensure their safety. We defined our audience as those with a religious background still questioning and those with a non-linear view of religion who are curious about the divine.

One thing I disliked about organised religion growing up was proselytising, insisting that one’s religion is right while others are wrong. This behaviour has emerged several times at The Table, and we maintain a strict no-tolerance policy. Disrespecting other religions or beliefs is unacceptable. Offenders who are stubborn or refuse to apologise are removed from the group.

We also have community moderators who monitor for potentially insulting texts. When such texts are spotted, they privately message offenders. Sometimes, offenders apologise and stay; other times, they must be removed from the group.

What would you say has been the impact of The Table community

Sometimes, Kamsy and I grapple with understanding the “why.” This is especially true for me, as I’m not in the same spiritual place I was 3 or 4 years ago when I was more passionate and inquisitive. However, meeting new people remains fascinating. Occasionally, our posts attract more participants. Some individuals have been with us for three years, reassuring me that we’re doing something right.

Some people are surprised when we clarify that we seek spiritual, not religious, individuals. It’s important to make clear that we are not a religious institution; we simply create space for these conversations.

We have made an impact by discussing topics that might not be raised elsewhere. For instance, two days ago, a community member shared her experiences regarding her abusive father, and others offered advice and support. We also directed her to social services. One advantage of being part of this community is having access to more knowledge and resources. If we make one person feel a little less lonely on their spiritual journey in life, then we are doing something right. The Table community has achieved this by helping people feel less isolated in shared experiences.

 

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A post shared by THE TABLE (@thetable__community)

What does true wellness and spirituality mean to you?

When I think of wellness, the word that comes to mind is “circumspect wholeness.” It’s a balanced state of harmony encompassing our lives’ physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual aspects. Wellness doesn’t mean everything is perfect; it’s about managing an acceptable stress level. When stress becomes unmanageable, that’s when we become unwell.

Defining spirituality is trickier. It’s a deeper form of wellness, connecting you to your full essence. The essence in you connects to my essence, making us value community, love, and other things we hold dear.

For The Table, we have adopted Bell Hooks’ definition of spirituality as “the dimension of our core reality where mind, body, and spirit are one. An individual does not need to be a believer in a religion to embrace the idea that there is an animating principle in the self-a life force (some of us call it soul) that when nurtured enhances our capacity to be more fully self-actualized and able to engage in communion with the world around us.” Spirituality, simply put, is all practice geared towards the growth of this part of us.

Kamsy and I envision a physical space that explores spirituality, where people can find peace and joy in every corner. It would allow open, meaningful conversations, allowing people to bond and connect profoundly.

A Table Community event in Abuja

What advice would you give women trying to discover their spirituality, especially in a hyper-religious country like Nigeria?

The spirituality we learn as women in Nigeria is often patriarchal, influenced by culture and theology that portrays God as a He. This creates a ceiling for women, limiting what they can be in any spiritual or religious space. As a result, true freedom and joy as a spiritual being become difficult to achieve. I encourage women to open their minds and hearts to the perspective of a God that resembles them—a God that is a woman. This might sound heretical, but if you can’t picture God as a woman, you might struggle to achieve your full divinity.

I’ve written about this before, and it’s not blasphemous to consider. The Yoruba have a saying, “Òrìṣa bí ìyá kòsí,” recognising a deity in our mothers’ ‘godly’ ability to birth and create life. Similarly, the Ijaw uses female pronouns for God, calling God “Teme Arau” (Female Creator).

I advise women exploring their spirituality to expand their vision of God. Don’t confine God to a limited box of preconceived notions. If your idea of God fits too neatly into what you think God should be, then that is not God. Envision a divine being that is like you.

Can you give us a tip you swear by for maintaining a healthy work-life balance?

Currently, I’m on a sabbatical, but one lesson I’ve learned from the corporate world is that, unless you’re in healthcare, nothing is so urgent that it should come before your well-being.

My colleagues knew that I valued my private time immensely despite being efficient and dedicated. If I didn’t want to be reached, I wouldn’t be. My gadgets would be in airplane mode, and sometimes, I’d even give my devices to friends and sibling to avoid the temptation of going online. Being unavailable during my personal time was crucial for me.

It’s unfair to tie our worth to our productivity. Tasks can always be done later. I strongly advocate taking naps, eating good food, and being unavailable for work during your spare time.

Author

  • ChiAmaka Dike

    Chiamaka is the Features Editor at Marie Claire Nigeria. She is a woman who is passionate about God, women, and top-notch storytelling in all formats. Send all feature pitches her way - chiamaka@marieclaire.ng

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