Monday, April 19, 2010

Hospitality: A Christian Practice

The RevGals theme today for the Monday Meet and Greet is Hospitality. It's in honor of their retreat which begins today on that same theme. Here is my contribution:

In her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us, Diana Butler Bass describes several small mainline Christian churches from different denominations that are experiencing growth because they have engaged, in deep and transformational ways, with ancient Christian practices.

Christian practices are those acts of discipline that a faith community engages in which shape, form, and transform the community into deeper faith. These practices include prayer, testimony, beauty, and hospitality, among others. These practices tend to rise up naturally, organically within a community. But the churches in her book took the time to discern the practices already at work in their community and develop them intentionally into stronger, deeper practices. At a recent conference with Diana Butler Bass she said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice for one to "master" a discipline. But she also said that faith communities doing the practice together build on those 10,000 hours forming not just individuals but all who participate, now and in the future. So for example, some old churches may have a long history of some Christian practice like prayer, and that discipline has shaped the community today.

Hospitality as a Christian practice, a discipline, is Biblical. Hospitality shows up in the story of Abraham and Sarah and the three strangers whom they host under the Oaks of Mamre. It's depicted in this Icon by Rubelev.

The three strangers show up at Abraham and Sarah's tent in the middle of the desert. They offer them respite under the trees, give them food and water, and treat these strangers like members of the family. In Rubelev's icon the three strangers are depicted as God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

In other words, be attentive, strangers appearing in your presence just might be God.

The Bible has other stories about hospitality, many of them include Jesus and his teachings on love, kindness, and care for others. Although Hospitality has deep roots in Christian faith and practice it is something many communities struggle with.

True, every church will tell you they are open and welcoming. Every church thinks of itself as friendly. But many times that open, welcome, and friendly behavior is limited to those who are already members of the community. It is not an actual practice of the community, not something that every member does intentionally, by actively reaching out to the visitor, the newcomer, the marginalized, and those who live on the fringes of the community around the congregation. And yet Christian hospitality is intended to be lived in this radical inclusive way.

When in your life have you experienced this kind of radical, welcoming hospitality? Was it with a faith community or a person or some other way/place?


Terri (AKA Mompriest) said...

Sadly I have more memories of church coffee hours that include people who stand in circles, coffee in hand, talking and laughing with their friends. The circle automatically closes out anyone who wants to approach them and say hi. The circle puts the backs of the people to those who don't have their own circle of friends and closes them out.

In one church community it was the rector's husband who went around to all of us on the fringes, those of us who had no one to talk too and engaged us in conversation.

Sherry said...

Terri, we have been very successful as of late with our adult ed program. It's advertized in the local paper and we've been drawing people from other churches who are hopefully coming to find us the kind of community they want to stay with. It's exciting. We have a group called infectious faith which works to bring in the "spiritual" who have not found churches supportive of their needs. We are extending ourselves in every way, especially in hospitality in the hopes of serving the needs of those who are unchurched but feel drawn to a connection with God. Thanks for a nice post!

concretegodmother said...

this is a lovely post. st. benedict essentially taught that the mark of any christian community should be its hospitality, to the extent that they treat ANY guest as if he/she were Christ. and i always hebrews 13:2, which you alluded to -- be careful to entertain strangers, for some have entertained angels unawares.

how often i need that reminder!

i became an anglican in part because of the welcoming hospitality of the parish i visited. and i became a regular part of the parish i'm currently involved with because of a women's retreat (believe it or not) at which i knew NO ONE other than the two people i went with, but at which everyone seemed genuinely interested in welcoming and knowing everyone else. there were no preconceived notions. it blew me away.

Terri (AKA Mompriest) said...

Sherry and CGM - you both raise excellent examples of hospitality and the transformational effect that happens when we are able to be gracious to one another in this way. Thank you for your comments.

Christin Lore Weber said...

---and this is a hospitable place to visit. I'm intrigued with the open-heartedness you've infused into your colors, pictures, ideas. I want to read more of you and your followers.

Catherine said...

This is a revealing and thoughtful post, Mompriest. I have often been on those fringes and as often have skipped coffee hour altogether because I feel like I am a stranger in a strange land. I make myself go because I know I need to be around people so I do the minimum, trying to engage others in conversation only to have them turn away or occasionally simply be ignored. At least that is how it used to be; once my priest found out about that she made sure she moved people around in her own inimitable way so that the fringes disappeared and we were all interacting. I still work at it and go but that is a success even if I don't linger very long.

Ever since our priest returned to our valley in 2000, she has made it her mission to show radical hospitality to all who come, and so our congregation has grown exponentially since then and all feel welcome.

This particular icon is special to us at Trinity because it is the Trinity; we use it for contemplative Eucharist a lot.

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...