Churches often talk about how important it is to be welcoming. And everyone, of course thinks that there’s is a particularly welcoming Church.
I know of a Church that has the following on its outside notice board:
Warning! Here we practise the inclusive Gospel of Jesus Christ. This means you may be mixing with tax collectors, adulterers, hypocrites, Greeks, Jews, women as well as men, female and male priests, homosexuals, lesbians, the disabled, thieves and other sinners, the dying, white people, black people, Asians and people from other races, Muslims, Bishops, bigots, people of other faiths, strangers, heretics and people with no particular faith etc. etc. In fact, anyone like those with whom Jesus himself mixed.
So beware—this is not a private club. Welcome to all.
There are significant and challenging questions to be considered when we are asking ourselves if we are a truly welcoming Church. What does our welcome look like? How do we move on from making people feel welcome, to helping them to feel a more intrinsic part of the Church community? How good are we at noticing when someone feels left out? How do we develop our friendships, and see our own development in faith, individually and corporately, in relation to this call from Jesus to be welcoming. These are questions that don’t have an easy answer, because they are about our relationships – and relationships are never simple – but nevertheless, it is important that we ask them of ourselves, to ensure that we do everything we can to continue to be a welcoming and loving faith community.
But of course, welcoming isn’t just about Church – it’s about our everyday lives.
What does hospitality look like in practice? Do you like, for example, letting people into your home?
Now, I have to make a confession here. I like to be hospitable, but I like to do it on my own terms – and I am aware that that is a very miserly kind of hospitality. And do you know what my main worry is, when it comes to hospitality?
You see, if I know people are coming, I can tidy up and clean and hoover, and put everything in the right place, and then I can feel comfortable about letting them in.
But if they turn up out of the blue, there is cat hair on the carpet, and kid’s stuff everywhere, and washing up that hasn’t been done, and the children are probably arguing, or watching television with the sound up too loud, and I probably can’t even find the remote to turn it off, (and if I’m really unlucky I was yelling at them just before you rang the doorbell) so I feel embarrassed. I would much rather any potential guests went away again and came back in a couple of hours when things looked more presentable.
And I suppose what this comes down to, is that I would like to appear more perfect than I am. I would like to look calm and organised (or at least charmingly and endearingly bohemian) with perfect, smiling, well-behaved, sensibly occupied children and I would like people to think that I have a beautiful house that is well looked after. And some of those things (most of those things) (well, alright, all of those things) are most definitely not true.
Hospitality is compromised by our inability to be honest with one another. It is compromised by our fear that we are not adequate. It is compromised by competitiveness and a tendency to judge. And it is simply not possible to be welcoming and at the same time be judging or being scared of being judged. We have to let go of those attitudes, if we want to learn about hospitality – whether we’re talking about being hospitable at Church or hospitable at home, or – even more crucially – being hospitable to God. It doesn’t all have to be perfect before we let them in.
God wants to be part of our everyday lives. The messy bits, the inadequate bits, the not quite sorted out bits as well as the bits that we’re pleased about. Offering hospitality to God in our hearts means to trust him to see past the messiness and to love us just because.
And it is no use waiting to talk to God until we feel a bit more sorted out – because I have news for you – we are never going to feel sorted out. Jesus came to be part of this world for that very reason – we are messy people who cannot sort ourselves out and work our way, nice and tidily and systematically, into the Kingdom of heaven. And he is knocking on the door of all our hearts right now, asking to be invited in – not to sit in the best front room that we have tidied up for him, but to sit amongst the mess, and just be together.
This is not a private club. It is open to all. Including us, messy though we are. May God give us courage to open our hearts to him and to one another, and to build his Kingdom together, one open door at a time.