For The Someday Book

Challenging Hospitality

Posted on: December 10, 2009

Last week, I got a call from a woman organizing a homeschool group to do some holiday baking. They were looking for a sizeable kitchen to rent for a couple of hours for a group of about 15 children & adults. We have a great kitchen for this purpose, and I was happy to rent it to them for the super-cheap price of $20, which is what we charge another woman who rents weekly to cook for the farmers’ market. They were thrilled. I am always happy to see our building put to good use.

But now they are here. I have counted at least 17 children of elementary age, with about as many teens and adults, and they are still arriving. They are well organized and well behaved, but they have taken over the whole fellowship hall. It’s crazy.

And, I have discovered, they are all Branhamites, members of a local Christian cult that follows deceased charismatic, evangelical preacher William Branham. They live in fairly segregated communities, believe in that women must never cut their hair and always dress in long skirts. Don’t even think about women in ministry or leadership. I have had some very negative encounters with Branhamites in the past over my ministry and leadership. I now feel outnumbered and uncomfortable in my own church. And a little bit used, since this is not at all what they described when we made the agreement.

Yet I am also pondering how much my own prejudice weighs into my feelings at this point. They have done nothing to assault me or my leadership. I made a point of going around and introducing myself as the pastor and leader of this church, and no one looked shocked or appalled. They have been warm and friendly and grateful.

In the UCC, we emphasize the importance of Christian hospitality. “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.” That’s why I didn’t feel the need to screen the homeschool group before inviting them to rent space. I knew there was a good chance we would be on opposite sides of the theological spectrum, but I also felt compelled to be welcoming. We have a perfect space that we do rent for these purposes. We rent cheap to other groups who use the whole hall. If they weren’t here, the hall would sit empty and unused. I believe it’s just good stewardship for the church building to be busy as much as possible. Their $20 will more than cover the cost of the lights and heat and stove, and I already made it clear that next time, if the group is so large and needs both spaces, we will need to charge more.

So now I am just trying to coax my spirit into a more welcoming and hospitable place.  Hospitality often requires us to stretch and grow, to truly welcome the Other just as they are. Jesus welcomed even the people who didn’t approve of him, even those who despised and killed him. This is nothing compared to that. Do I really have any right to complain about a group of well-behaved, well-monitored children baking Christmas cookies to give away to seniors and mentors?

As I write this last paragraph, they have gathered outside my door to begin the day with prayer and instructions. I am listening to them talk about respecting and honoring others, and honoring our church for hosting them. The woman engaged the children in a conversation about the meaning of respect, then concluded: “Because we are Christians, we practice respect. The people of this church have allowed us to come here, and we are grateful. We want them to know that we are Christians, and we practice respect for them and for their church by taking good care of the building.”

I guess we’re all just trying to be like Jesus, the best way we know how. Welcome, fellow Christians. May Jesus find us both in this common space, and give us grace to be truly welcoming to one another.

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1 Response to "Challenging Hospitality"

What a thoughtful and loving reflection.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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