By Rick Jones
Published: December 2009
The Advent and Christmas season is one of the few times that people outside the church actually take some interest in us and our activities. It is a great opportunity for us to follow the Christ Child into the world and practice the spiritual discipline of hospitality.
One of the things that strikes me about our new Vision for our diocese is that it calls us to shift our focus, as Terry DeForest noted in a Speaker's Corner comment, "It feels like the centre of gravity is shifting from us in the Church to those around us in the community." I agree, the Vision can radically reorient our focus to the world and people that God loves outside our communities.
What if our focus this season was not inward looking to our needs, but outward looking to the needs of our neighbours? Advent and Christmas are times that the community around us gives us permission to engage with them in creative ways. "Outsiders" come to our bazaars, and some of our services. What if we practiced hospitality and very intentionally looked at all our events and services from the point of view of the stranger?
Think about our activities, our spaces and our rituals from the point of view of a valued guest. We have a wonderful opportunity here to build relationships. Is everyone at our bazaars and other events wearing a name tag and prepared to talk to the guest in our midst, to really show some interest in them as persons? Could we risk asking people about what, if anything, the church could offer them? Do we have our welcome literature customized and ready to be handed out, inviting people to services, and other programmes of the church?
When people do come to our services, do we have greeters specially trained to welcome them, orienting them to the building, and the liturgy, and making them feel at home? Do we ever plan services to make them user friendly for a visitor? It isn't that hard to treat people as valued guests and use the same skills we employ in our homes to make people feel at ease in our churches. These are only a few of the practical things we can be thinking about.
What makes this the spiritual disciple of hospitality and not just church business as usual? The answer is in the focus and intentionality of the action. If our focus is truly on the needs of the visitor, or the stranger in our midst, and not on what we can get from them (bums in pews and dollars on plates) we will be following Christ in unconditional hospitality. The discipline in this is to be intentional in our caring for others, to be prepared, to think it through ahead of time. so that our ministry will be excellent and worthy of Christ.
We do have a great opportunity in this Advent and Christmas season to build new relationships, to really care for our neighbours, to engage them in conversations that are open ended. The kind that find common ground in children, and work, and real life concerns, the kind of conversations that lead to the beginnings of friendship, and at some point down the road, to conversations of faith.
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