Just as I did last month, I need to begin with big “thank you”—this time, to all those who made possible and attended my Installation Service on Sunday afternoon, May 23 and the reception that followed. On behalf of my family, I also want to thank the congregation for its wonderful gifts of the Ann Vasilik print of Church Street and the collection of books. You continue to overwhelm us with your gracious hospitality and generosity!
I recently came across an article published a few years ago in the periodical The Christian Century — PLAY IT SAFE: Avoid riding in automobiles because they are responsible for 20% of all fatal accidents. Do not stay home because 17% of all accidents occur in the home. Avoid walking on streets or sidewalks because 14% of all accidents occur to pedestrians. Avoid travelling by air, rail or water because 16% of all accidents involve these forms of transportation. You will be pleased to learn that only .001% of all deaths occur in worship services at church, and these are usually related to previous physical disorders. Therefore, logic tells us that the safest place for you to be at any given time is at church. Even fewer deaths occur during Bible study. For safety’s sake, attend church and read your Bible!
This tongue-in-cheek article struck a cord with me as I ponder the concept of hospitality, especially as it applies to our location here in downtown Asheville. Even though we may feel safe and secure in the church, there are many who don’t feel welcome. In fact, on Sunday mornings many of our neighbors are elsewhere.
The problem is not, of course, about physical fear—after all, we don’t come to church to escape car accidents! Instead, there are other deep fears and anxieties that keep folks away from the church. Perhaps it is a fear of the unknown, or a fear of the being bored or rejected. Some people simply do not know what happens in a church community and others have never been asked. Others still remember a bad experience at the church of their childhood.
One of our most central tasks in the Church is to practice hospitality—both to those within our congregation and those outside. At it’s most basic, hospitality is the sacred act of “making room” for strangers in our midst. Jesus did this again and again in his ministry, making hospitality central to the message of the gospel. God’s kingdom, we learn, is first a place of gracious welcome for all.
The hospitality of others played a significant role in my own faith journey. On our first visit to Trinity Presbyterian in Santa Cruz, CA more than 20 years ago, Pat and I were welcomed warmly and genuinely into the community. From the first moment we set foot in that church, there was ‘room’ made for us. That gift of hospitality has had life-changing ramifications for me.
What can we as individuals and as a congregation do? It’s been suggested that there are two ‘hospitality” questions that can be asked about any encounter we have a stranger or one who is unknown to us: 1) “Did we see Christ in them?” and 2) “Did they see Christ is us?”
Practicing the ancient custom of hospitality in our postmodern world is a difficult task, but one that we as follower of Jesus are uniquely qualified to carry out. An old Dutch proverb put it well: “If there is room in the heart, there is room in the house.”
Peace and grace,