Radical hospitality

I’ve used this term many times over the past few months but haven’t really explained it. “Radical hospitality” has become something of a spiritual buzzword lately as more and more congregations (in many faith traditions), struggle with what it means to be inclusive and welcoming. Within some Christian contexts, radical hospitality takes the form of the question: How do we connect with non-believers in our greater communities in true and inclusive ways?

For Unitarian Universalists (since affirming a plurality of belief is intrinsic to who we are), the question has become, How do we connect with those outside our circles, even when they don’t look like us? How do we make more room in our circles?

Near as I can tell, the term originates from the book Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love, by Father Daniel Homan and Lonni Gollins Pratt. They write:

When we speak of hospitality we are always addressing issues of inclusion and exclusion. Each of us makes choices about who will and who will not be included in our lives…. Hospitality has an inescapable moral dimension to it…. All of our talk about hospitable openness doesn’t mean anything as long as some people continue to be tossed aside…. But calling hospitality a moral issue does not tell us the whole truth about hospitality either. A moral issue can become bogged down in legalisms, and hospitality is no legalistic ethical issue. It is instead a spiritual practice, a way of becoming more human, a way of understanding yourself. Hospitality is both the answer to modern alienation and injustice and a path to a deeper spirituality.

We are a very hospitable congregation. When I stand outside the door greeting on Sunday mornings, I watch what happens as visitors walk in. I watch as you enthusiastically greet them as new friends, show them to the visitor’s table, and introduce them to a few of your friends (who “might” just have something in common with them). I watch during coffee hour as you mosey up to new faces and ask them what brings them to our church. Frankly, I’ve never seen a church do this better.

Yet radical hospitality calls us to question even those things that we do very well. For example, what does it say to a visitor when they hear in the announcements that “coffee’s on us” for their first visit? Does that give the impression that we operate on a “fee for service” basis as many mega churches do, or that on their second visit they’ll have to start pulling their weight? What does it mean when they see us fund raising after church with Fuund Lunches to fund our programs? Does that give the impression that we’re not able to support our programs, or that they’ll be constantly asked to give money at this church? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but they are things that pop into my mind as a relative newcomer myself.

I’m not down on coffee hour and community lunches, for I wouldn’t want either to go away! They bring us together in community, conversation, and fellowship. I do mean to ask us all to take apart each of our practices to see the messages they communicate—for everything we do communicates our message. That’s always food for thought.

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