How hospitable is your church?
Nearly ten years ago, I participated in an Alpha course with a young college student who was new to our Anglican church. Our group received the assignment to read and discuss that passage in Romans which mentions homosexuality as a sin. An Alpha course is a safe place for vulnerability and questions, and this new girl responded in turn. She said, “I’m not so sure whether I agree with that passage. I might be attracted to women, and I don’t know if I think there is anything wrong with that.”
Because of her candor, this new girl landed, literally, in the middle of a greater church conflict. On the one hand, she received a warm welcome, with no strings attached. But she was also handed a self-help book that explained homosexuality as a sin, paired with a sincere offer to pray with her and help her. These two points of view came from different people within the same congregation, ours.
What would you have said, had you been sitting there in the Alpha group next to her?
It is a tough call, seeing as the greater Anglican church community is in disagreement regarding the terms of LGBTQ inclusion (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer). While Archbishop Welby is “consumed with horror” at the way in which the Church has treated LGBTQ people, he also seeks “to find a way to love and embrace people who believe that same-sex relationships are deeply wrong.”
In practice, this means that Anglicans are split in their response to situations like the one in the Alpha group. Though we probably all have individual opinions about LGBTQ inclusion, what is an appropriate response within a church setting?
Looking at the example of Christ, we see that the Christian protocol for inclusion is so much bigger than the question of LGBTQ inclusion. Christ showed hospitality to Zacchaeus, Bartimeus, Mary Magdalene, and the unnamed Canaanite woman. In other words, he welcomed and affirmed the worth of the rich, the poor, the ill, the marginalized, and the alien. He did not differentiate among the people who requested audience with him.
This gives us a clear protocol for hospitality. Christ’s radical example translates to an unconditional welcome for everyone who seeks fellowship in the Alpha group, the Sunday service, or the shared church lunch. It opens the door wide for all:
the wealthy executive;
the homeless woman;
the child skipping up and down the aisles;
the young man with a disability who makes a joyful noise in the middle of the Gospel reading, and then again, and again;
the asylum seeker;
the foreign family, whose children do not understand or speak English;
the gay couple and their children.
How does such a protocol play out in practice? Does it give us the license to place conditions on the participation of those people we welcome? Do we, as the church family, have a mandate to say “Welcome! Please join us.
…as long as you give more generously at the offering;
…as long as your toddler goes to the crèche so she doesn’t disrupt the service;
…as long as your son keeps his disability at a low volume;
…as long as your daughter can understand English, because we’re an English-speaking church, you know!
…as long as you don’t get involved in the children’s ministry?”
What are the conditions of our hospitality?
Those who know me, know that I am an avid reader of Harry Potter. One of my favorite characters is Molly Weasley, a mother of six redheaded children and the owner of a very generous heart.
As the matriarch of a warm, bustling household, Molly is an important figure for the protagonist, Harry Potter, who is an orphan. She is the first female he meets from the wizarding world as he prepares to board the train at King’s Cross Station. Upon first sight, she calls him “dear,” and helps him pass through the magical entrance at the famous “Platform 9 ¾.”
From that moment onward, Molly Weasley regularly welcomes Harry to her home during school holidays. She feeds him, knits clothes for him, and sends him out to do the chores with her other kids. She treats him, thus, as one of her own, which is exactly what Harry needs. As Jana Riess said in her blog article about Molly,
she regards Harry as both special and not special, which is just about right. One trick of hospitality is treating people not as you would want to be treated yourself, but as they would want to be treated, which is much harder.
While Christ gives us a model for ‘who’ we might welcome, Molly gives us a model of ‘how’ we might put that welcome into practice: by treating guests in the way that they would like to be treated. This appears self-evident, but in practice, it is not. It requires a negation of self and the asking of the question, “What do you need to feel comfortable here?”
As Christ-people, we have inherited a mandate to be different from the rest of the world, as Christ was. He turned the notions of grace – and who was worthy of it – on its head. Let us be radical in our hospitality, as he was.
Let us start next Sunday, in church.
©2016 Anastasia Hacopian
This piece was published this month in LINK Magazine, the publication of the Anglican Church of St. John & St. Philip in the Hague, the Netherlands.