Hospitality and the Church

Why do you come to church? Why do you stay? Two important questions, and, yet, two questions that you might not have asked yourself. Of course there may have been occasions when you asked those questions out of exasperation over a change in how things are done, or a new program. I know I’ve asked those questions at times! What I’m really asking is why, despite times you want to just walk away you don’t.

I’ve read a recent study that actually asked those questions of churchgoers. And what do you think the overwhelming answers were? Here are the answers we are taught to give, 1) Because I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and 2) Because the work of the church will transform the world, making it a better place, awaiting the return of Jesus and the marriage of heaven and earth, the final triumph of good over evil.

I think these are great answers, don’t you!? They really are great answers. Scripturally sound. Theologically accurate.

But they are not the overwhelming answers people gave. Sort of.

Fully two thirds of the responders to the questions answered, 1) Because of the fellowship and, 2) Because within the church they had the chance to make their community a better place for them and their children. The next highest response was because they had fun!

I was asked by Circuit Rider magazine to give a 50 word or less answer to the question, “Which term do you prefer, hospitality or evangelism?” Here is my answer:

People long to belong. In response to that longing Jesus  began his ministry by forming a community. That act of hospitality became the framework through which he shared the good news of God's love. We are called to do the same. I believe hospitality is the first action of evangelism.

Hospitality. Making a home, not just for yourself, but for others as well. Hospitality is fellowship, friendship, companionship. And in the process of practicing hospitality the world you live in becomes a better place. And it’s easy to do.

It’s also easy not to do.

The first Christians had to learn the way of hospitality. Those seeking to learn this way were included in the community of faith and were called catechumens, a Greek word that means “member of the household of God.” They weren’t full members yet. Think of them as children in the family that at some point in their maturation process are recognized as adults.

The process concluded with a forty day preparation for their initiation into the faith community. Today we call that period of time Lent. At the conclusion of this period these catechumens participated in what were called “The Awesome Rites of Initiation” in an early Christian text.

Those rites included Baptism, Anointing (what we now call Confirmation) and Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper. All of this took place on the eve of Easter Sunday in a worship that is now called the Easter Vigil.

The Easter Vigil is the third of a three day celebration of the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus called the Triduum in Latin. This Triduum makes up the major events of Holy Week, the time between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.

And so, as we prepare for Easter, the core of Christian faith, we adults in the household of God have the responsibility to practice hospitality anywhere and everywhere, especially in this, our home of faith. We do that by building and strengthening relationships. By strengthening relationships we make our community a better place for all. And along the way let’s have some fun!