Sunday, 11 December 2011

Hospitality Church

This week we were excited to be opening our new Parish Room  - obviously it called for a community tea party, a Bishop and an evening bash with wine (any excuse.) It represents a major step forward in our mission as it is somewhere to offer hospitality - a 'third place'* where all sorts of people can gather, be refreshed and meet others. A space like this, with a warm welcome and nice, comfy surroundings (yes we are proud of our tasteful green carpet and carefully chosen charcoal grey chairs) is integral to a church which believes that hospitality and welcome are in the heart of God. The room is currently our Good News and will hopefully be a vehicle for the same. Wherever society meets authentic Christian Good News, something positive nearly always results.

This week members of the Occupy London Protest met with a Bishop, a Christian Investment Banker and the Chief Executive of the FSA for the next stage of ongoing discussions about financial ethics and inequality....where did they meet? At The Centre for Reconciliation and Peace at St Ethelburga's, London. Destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1993, the current Centre was built on a site where there has been an ongoing Christian presence in the community for more than 800 years. Their mission 'is  one of hospitality, welcoming and learning from the stranger in the spirit of St Paul's reminder to the Hebrews that "some people have entertained angels unawares"' (Hebrews. 13:2). I can't help thinking that those protesters, faith or no faith, will go away from these encounters with a more positive impression of Christ than they will have gleaned from the media. And the blessing will be two way, a gift that results from an honest, face to face, equal encounter in a safe space, all sides listening.

In our ministry Team this week we also had a mutually beneficial sharing with the staff of a local hotel who often put on wedding receptions and thought it might be nice to actually meet some of the clergy who do the church weddings around the area. Inspired community joined up thinking! Whilst the freshly baked muffins, hot coffee and pastries which accompanied our meeting, tour and sharing of websites, were an obvious highlight, what was best was the sense of them discovering that the church ain't that bad after all, and us realising we still have so much to offer. Before the refreshments, we prayed the Morning Office looking out over the Thames and it felt good -  not being hidden away in a church office, we benefited from the hotel's hospitality and welcome. Let us be anything but shut away inside our Sundays where none but the faithful ever encounter us.

*The third place is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace (The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenberg, 1989.) It is an important idea in mission within the Emerging Church movement, where people are not always ready to come inside traditional church buildings to experience what the church has to offer.

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