What should church hospitality look like? Is “hospitality” enough?
The church has wrestled with these questions for some time, and recently in response to “open table”—the practice of welcoming unbaptised people to participate in the Eucharist.
At the spring 2012 meeting of the House of Bishops, the bishops opted for a broader conversation, moving from discussing open table exclusively to a conversation on hospitality and how it connects to discipleship.
The bishops asked the Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, to set up a task force to examine the issue. The Primate defined the task with two questions: Are there any limits to the church’s hospitality to the unbaptised? How can the church’s hospitality to the unbaptised be part of making disciples?
After an initial report, the task force began work on a resource to offer to the church for use in Lent and Eastertide 2014. It’s purpose: to restore the role of Lent and Easter in forming the church as a community of disciples, welcoming new disciples, and renewing a sense of God’s call to the church in baptism.
“Becoming the Story We Tell: Renewing our engagement with Christ crucified and risen” is now available as a PDF, with handy link-based navigation to help users explore a wide array of material, compiled with an eye to flexibility and adaptability for broad variety of contexts.
The Rev. Canon John Hill—chair of the task force as well as compiler and editor of Becoming the Story—sees this as an opportunity for the church to renew its understanding of what sacraments are and do.
“Very few of us have experienced the kind of formation that newcomers will need to help them follow the way of Jesus,” says Hill.
“We need to start with our own crowd. We need to start with the kind of formation that is described in the resources as ‘turning again to the way of Christ’ in some kind of formal fashion, together with the kind of communal formation that supports that. If we learn what that looks like, what it feels like… we might just get excited about offering that kind of opportunity to people who have never been baptised.”
One of the main components in Becoming the story is the small group reflections for Lent and Easter. The Lenten reflections focus on the gospel readings for Lent 2014 and ask the same three questions each time: What is Jesus offering us? Where is the resistance to Him coming from? What will we have to risk or renounce to be free to follow the way of Jesus?
The small group reflections for Easter focus on what the church does in the liturgy, in the sacraments, and ask: ‘How did doing this affect us?’ ‘What did we notice that we never noticed before?’ ‘What does doing this say about us as a company of disciples? What does it say about the new world God is making?’ ‘What would it mean to live the way we pray?’
“Instead of starting with teaching doctrine about the meaning of church,” says Hill, “we start with grounding as many people as possible in word and sacrament, and sustained reflection.”
The resource offers different levels of implementation from which congregations can choose—from a basic cultivation of a renewed sense of baptismal identity and vocation, to deeper focus on engaging newcomers, and more.
“We tend to treat the Gospel sacraments as freestanding encounters with grace,” says Hill, “but we don’t always recognise how they work together to help form the church, form a people of God who acknowledge and accept the mission of Jesus.”
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