Church and Hospitality: Food for Thought And Prayer

This is just incidental and anecdotal remarks, but they are food for thought.

We used to live with an elderly bachelor priest. He got companionship and good meals and a little dog to spoil; we got housing and Christian direction. He (John Pierce) was the most welcoming person I’ve ever met. No one got turned away at the door. He preached with the doors to the church open all summer, so he could call people in if they stopped to see what was going on. (And he did – I’ve seen him do it – “Come in, brother, lots of room, sit down and rest!” – and then he’d go on with the service.)  He invited people to meals, to stay, to join his Bible study and other church groups. I made sure that I could extend the supper dishes a bit in case he found someone in need of a meal and fellowship. The guest rooms were always ready for visitors, beds made, closets empty; someone might stay overnight or for a month. Never a father himself, he indulged his nieces and nephews and always carried treats and small gifts for the many children he knew and met.

Yet this incredible Christian generosity and hospitality was not a lesson his parish ever learned. He tried to teach by example, but they never learned the lesson. Perhaps he was too indulgent with them; perhaps their hearts were hardened. I won’t be too critical here, for some people may have learned the Christian virtue of hospitality, but as a church, we Anglicans fail at this.

A young deacon had lunch with us yesterday. He preached here and then he and his wife came for a meal. (Barbecued chicken, green salad, potato salad, and some divine little brownie cupcakes.) There was a lot of conversation around the table, from the usual diocesan chitchat to some profound thoughts on life in the church. He told a story of how a church in South Africa fed the poor in their neighborhood, by members bringing soup ingredients and then making a big pot of stew out on the church sidewalk and handing out bowls. Cost of the program: nothing. Organization: casual. Is that a lot different from your church’s outreach?I think so. You all know the parable from the gospels of the wedding feast to which the guests don’t come – and the lord sends his servants out to bring in everyone else. Why aren’t we doing that? Our own traditional churchgoers are too busy or too successful or too distracted to come to church and share the feast – so why aren’t we, the servants, out inviting others? Maybe if we offered real food and friendship as well as spiritual food and the communion of the saints…

Well, there is a whole stern lecture in that. All right – have we spiritualized the presence of Christ too much? Are we offering just the ghost of the bounty of the Lord? Are we (as my mother used to say) “Too heavenly minded to be any earthly good?” And by that she meant people who told the hungry, go and be filled spiritually and told the near-naked, go and be warmed. (Yes, the epistle of James.)

We are past the season to plant; how many of our churches and our fellow Christians are now taking the first fruits and offering them to the Lord? Do this by feeding the hungry and poor, and there are lots of them. Do this by feeding each other, and sharing with the poor. Make a big picnic meal next Sunday, serve it out on the church lawn, open the gates, send out people to invite people in off the streets – no conditions on receiving. This isn’t for evangelism, this is for the love of God. Don’t worry about permits – sort that out later if you must. (And you know how to handle food safely – for crying out loud, we don’t regularly poison our own families at home. Hot things hot, cold things cold. Stop worrying about liability needlessly. That’s just pomp and self-importance.)

Enough talk, enough planning, enough three-year plans for mission. Just go and do likewise.

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9 thoughts on “Church and Hospitality: Food for Thought And Prayer

  1. I love your mother’s comment, I think she was very right in that…

    I think it is the little things we can do that matters, that we can cook food in the way you say or just help someone when given the opportunity. I do not think it always have to be on church level, sometimes the best approach is person to person.

    • My mother was a theologian by nature. Just one person can get things rolling, and even if she doesn’t, at least something got done.

  2. Magdalena,

    Indeed, the lawyers and local councils have strangled spontaneous hospitality!!!!!! In Australia, they are particularly officious, though I believe with prayer and guts, this could be dealt with. The problem is as you suggest, within the Body; too ‘successfull’ too ‘busy’, ‘too heavenly minded to be of any Earthly good!!!!

    I think of the Wayside Chappel in Kings Cross, Sydney, and its work (google it). Each Church should be a little ‘wayside’. Our locum minister gave a very truthful sermon yesterday, pointing out issues of a similar vein to our parish; that they have grown too comfortable over the years, and are only a bare shadow of the force they once were in the community, that new leadership is needed to be groomed if it has a future. The next few years will tell if we shall live or die, for we have reached the tipping point, whilst around us, people walk past, needs are not being properly met because ‘evangelism’ has forced out the love of God. Our diocese is too busy with the well known ‘concerns’ held by the Sydney Diocese to concentrate on the ‘widow’ and the ‘orphan’. Organizations like Anglicare are not supported as they ought by Diocessan leadership. Would Christ recognize it or be recognized?

    and this of a parish that is by no means cold; yes it is friendly, with its open house lunches every fifth Sunday of the month and other intemitent get togethers… but the surrounding peoples are not being drawn. Our local bible study group looks after its members admirably, but they are for the mostpart, well into the late autumn of their lives (part of the Church when it was in the springtime and full summer of its strength…

    This is something that simply ‘more programmes’ ‘more leadership teams’, more ‘committees’ will not fix. as the minister stated, it requires a change of soul.

    I am curious as to the thoughts of the deacon who lunched with you yesterday on these issues, if indeed it was possible to discuss such.

    • It seems to be the story of mainstream churches – people may want to do things, but get their hands tied, and others think they are doing things but really aren’t. And sometimes (often) we clergy sit back and say, “Well, let them do it their way, I can’t change them. They don’t want to change.” But with God all things are possible. As Elin says in her comment, it doesn’t matter if it is an official programme, just one person doing what needs to be done is fulfilling the mission. Pray that the Holy Spirit will light the hearts of the spiritually dull!

  3. The Anabaptists take hospitality seriously.When visiting the Beachy Amish Mennonites they pick me up at the bus station, they feed me and give me a bed.They have a rota every Sunday so that any visitors get invited to dinner afterwards and at communion everyone take it in turn to wash each others’ feet.The Bruderhof take in visitors and the River Brethren’s version of communion is the love feast, a meal cooked by the women in church while the men pray.It used to last days but now it just lasts a day.

    • I’m going to write more on this important subject. One thing to keep in mind is that we prctice hospitality for its own sake, or rahter for the sake of Jesus who commanded it. When we start seeing hospitality as a fundraiser or an evangelism tool, we lose sight of the generosity of God.

  4. Brigham Young was President of our church during the years of migration to the Salt Lake Valley. He once interrupted a service and told folks to go home and cook up a nice meal because he had just received news that a handcart company was coming into Salt Lake. When one of the other Brethren tried to tell him that the Church meeting was more important he replied that it is a lot easier to pray when your belly is full than when it is empty.

    He said a lot of things that you wouldn’t expect from a man in that time period, let alone the leader of a church setting policy.

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