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.