The phrase “radical hospitality” caught my attention in a recent post on the website Abbey of the Arts, a site I discovered this year.
Radical hospitality tends to inspire “walking into trouble” as Sister Simone Campbell, head of the Nuns on the Bus tour, describes her faith. This use of faith as a verb instead of a noun was also espoused by the late Congressman John Lewis who famously said, “Make good trouble, necessary trouble.” Their actions exemplify this practice of putting extraordinary effort and emphasis on making people feel welcome, of accepting the challenge and risks of extending ourselves beyond our comfort zones.
In 2013 my pastor took sabbatical and I was hired to be the pastor in his absence. My very first Sunday in the pulpit, a homeless man came in off the street. We welcomed him as we would anyone but were a little wary. We had had a service disrupted once by someone who was seriously mentally ill and that left an indelible impression. Two ushers seated themselves nearby where the fellow had found a pew and stretched out, covering himself with his coat. He appeared to be asleep throughout the service. But when it came time to offer prayer requests, he suddenly popped up, saying he wanted to share something. I hesitated a split second and then said, “Of course. Please do.” To our surprise and delight, he held us spellbound as he sang a beautiful hymn.
Hospitality can yield pleasant surprises, such as this one was, but also some disconcerting ones. When a cross dresser arrived for worship we were happy to welcome him but were startled when we learned from him afterward that he had served time as a pedophile. He reported that he was meeting regularly with his parole officer, whose contact information he freely gave. Now we had the safety of our children to consider. In consultation with our parents of young children, we put a plan in place to ensure he was not around the children but we continued to welcome him to our services.
Though these examples were within our walls, the nature of radical hospitality actually calls us to reach out. Once when our governor had put forth a plan to extend health care, our congregation in concert with others, marched in support of it. I accompanied the pastor to the office of our representative prior to the vote to urge his support. When we take radical hospitality seriously we are alert to opportunities to extend ourselves in the cause of making this a more welcoming place for all.
However, the post from the Abbey, which started me on this topic, pointed out another aspect which seems fundamental. The Abbey author suggested a reaching inward to offer radical hospitality towards ourselves, recognizing the burdens we bear—old wounds and griefs, anxieties and anger–emotional scars that could use some tender care. This is the soil in which compassion within us grows, enabling us to respond to those we encounter, authentically, effectively, in the practice of this hospitality so needed in our world.
May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate
Hope’s Café Bonus: 1) Consider if you yourself need some radical hospitality. How might you nurture yourself to grow a more compassionate attitude within? 2) Pay attention to needs that present themselves to you and assess where you might offer radical hospitality.