Hospitality, relationships, and community are hot topics in spiritual communities these days.
John Vest recently wrote here about his hopes for rebooting our Presbytery by relationship building using the community organizing method of relational meetings. Henry Brinton’s excellent book on hospitality offers interesting generational insights on how hospitality has been taught (and not taught) through recent history.
But here’s a universal issue I’ve noticed: we who tout relationship-building and hospitality are – ourselves – often relationship averse with certain kinds of people. It’s cool to be tolerant towards certain kinds of people, but are we intolerant towards the uncool?
I hear over and over again – across generations, genders, races, sexual orientations, theological beliefs and political parties:
Is there a place for me in your circle?
- A heavily pierced 30-something couple walked into a traditional 11 am church service to find themselves basically ignored – even though this was a congregation of “progressive” and “welcoming” believers
- A 70-something retired man hoped to join a group of young leaders sipping coffee at a church function, only to have the group literally turn their backs on him so that he’d join another table
- A 90 year old lifelong church member, after suffering a stroke, sat alone on the sofa in her church fellowship hall while her healthier friends laughed together on the other side of the room
- A transgender woman wanted to meet with the Women’s Bible Study in her church but was gently told that “this is not really for you“
- A Black hospital patient who was served communion by the pastor of his White roommate during a pastoral care visit, later asked his roommate about his church saying he might like to visit, but was literally told that he would be uncomfortable at that church because “we don’t really have Black people in our congregation.”
These are all true stories I’m sorry to say.
This doesn’t mean that every person has to be a part of every group and every tribe. But if we are serious about connecting with The Other, welcoming strangers, and building relationships, we need to realize that none of us is as tolerant and friendly as we’d like to think we are.
I especially notice this between generations in the church. When younger generations announce that “everything has to change” older generations seem to hear “we are no longer welcome here.” When older generations cling to familiar forms of faith, younger generations seem to think “there is no place for someone like me.“
We can’t simultaneously say we want to build relationships and then ignore some of the people with whom we are supposed to be building those relationships. Either we welcome everyone or we don’t.
Imagine how church would change if we welcomed even those who offended us, bored us, confused us, or angered us. Imagine if we welcomed even those who are not among the cool kids.