Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Hospitable Church vs. The Church of the No Trespassing Sign

I've written before about churches and "No Trespassing" signs; this post talks about the homeless, our churches, and doomed church-parishioner matches.

Our church council does more than just make budget decisions.  We also do some Bible study, and that Bible study is created by our pastor to help us think about some of the larger issues facing both our individual church and the larger Church. 

Lately, we've been thinking about hospitality.  Our Gospel for this Sunday also addresses hospitality.

When we think about hospitality, some of us think about the greeters who hover around the doors, the greeters who should be on the look-out for newcomers.  Some of us think about the genuinely different people who might come to church and how we would make them feel welcome:  our grandmothers might have fretted about the people who showed up dressed in their jeans, while some of us in more modern churches might wonder about how to make transgender people feel at home.  They're variations of the same question, even if people don't see it that way.  Difference makes a lot of us feel threatened, and we react in different ways.

Of course, the more practical amongst us might point out that hospitality begins in the parking lot.  If I arrive at your church, will I know where the door to the sanctuary is?  When I get inside and need to use the bathroom, is there a sign?  And then, when the service begins, what processes do you have set up to guide me?

I've been going to church most of my whole life, so I know my way around a hymnbook.  But many people don't.  And the paging system of Lutheran hymnbooks is downright baffling to a person who has never used one.  Why can't we just have simple pagination all the way through?  Start with page 1 on the first page and carry on.

No, instead, in our latest Lutheran service book (it's more than hymns!), to make things even more confusing, we have  a section with no page numbers at all (the Psalms section), in addition to the already confusing fact that we number the hymns and the front matter has a regular page numbering system.

Of course, by the time the next service book comes out, perhaps we won't use books at all.  Perhaps I am the last generation who feels frustration with the physical book.  Maybe in 10-20 years, people will use their smart phones, and maybe there will be q r codes from the pulpit that will guide us.

And then the hospitality team will have to decide how to welcome the people who have no smart phone.

Yes, the questions of hospitality and how we welcome the stranger will always be with us.  Some people might argue that the Church has greater problems facing it.  But issues of hospitality and community building--these are the essential questions, as Jesus tells us again and again.  Jesus spends no time on the sexuality issues that threaten to rip our modern churches to shreds.  Jesus spends time creating spaces where all sorts of people will feel welcome (unless they choose to feel threatened, of course). 

We should too.

1 comment:

Di said...

It sometimes feels to me that there is an extent to which congregants actively (but unconsciously) discourage hospitality. For so many, church has become a token of belonging, of identity, and a primary way for an institution to maintain distinct identity is for there to be both insiders and outsiders. Hospitality comes to mean that you are welcome to be among us, but you will not be fully one of us. Being a resident alien isn't the same as being offered citizenship (and membership isn't necessarily the same thing as being an equal member).