One of the ministries I perform at my church is that of Master of Ceremonies. Although many would accurately assume that this function is largely concerned with adherence to the liturgy and a smooth, efficient worship service, the verger who trained me insisted that it is first and foremost a ministry of hospitality. The first time I heard this I dismissed it preferring to think of hospitality ministries as those emanating from the kitchen, culminating in the parish hall or perhaps on the dining table of a sick parishioner. But as I have come to own and live through this role I have discovered that my understanding of hospitality was misshapen. Hospitality isn’t about feeding people, it’s about making them welcome. It’s enabling others to let down their guard and be themselves; to know that they are safe and loved and accepted as they are. This, I think, may be the essence of our calling as Christians.
Sadly, I don’t think we view enough of the activities and ministries within our churches and our lives from this viewpoint of hospitality. I have heard it said enough times to be either credible or urban legend, that one of the churches in our diocese believes that “everyone who needs to be Episcopalian is Episcopalian.” While this is an extreme example we often operate under the principle that we’re “welcoming communities” and we love new comers. But what if we actively tried to make people feel welcome whether or not they joined our church? Each Sunday our Rector invites all who are gathered in our nave “regardless of your denominational background, wherever you come from, to join in the communion feast around our Lord’s Table.” I love these words but what if we let them leak through our red double doors and spill onto our surrounding neighborhoods? What if we loved and fed and welcomed and embraced everyone in our community? In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus feeds the 5000 from five loaves and two fish and twelve full baskets of leftovers were collected. When He feeds the 4000 seven full baskets of leftovers were collected. This isn’t just hospitality; it’s extravagance in the name of welcoming people into the Kingdom.
Over the past several weeks I have struggled with maintaining a constant connection to God throughout my day. Despite reading about Henri Nouwen and others lauding the virtues of continuous prayer in all our mundane tasks, I have struggled to do so, justified in my self-righteous insistence that my work requires too much mental engagement to leave room for God. But finally Karl Rahner knocked me off my pedestal. He writes, “That’s why I now see clearly that, if there is any path at all on which I can approach You, it must lead through the very middle of my ordinary daily life…if it’s true that I can lose You in everything, it must also be true that I can find You in everything.” So it seems that once again, my experience is not unique. People much more intelligent and faithful than I, have already conquered the struggles which vex me today.
So how does Rahner relate to our calling to hospitality? It strikes me that it is only through our willingness to offer, and indeed to accept, hospitality that we meet God. Jesus’ actions throughout the Gospels were essentially acts of hospitality. Even His death and resurrection were in part an effort to make us welcome in an unbelievably extravagant way, and so I think we’re made more Christ-like by our willingness to die a little for the sake of someone else. Indeed, I think for me, hospitality that’s a little over the top, a little more than is acceptable and certainly more than is required but an everyday part of our lives, may be the ultimate distillation of our Kingdom life.