Radical hospitality includes consoling those who mourn
(AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)
Bishop Robert Schnase writes that "Vibrant, fruitful congregations practice Radical Hospitality." These are local churches that show the love of Christ by loving their neighbors, inviting, welcoming and including all sorts of new people into the life of the church and all its ministries and programs. There is no distinction between newcomer and those who have been attending the congregation all their lives.
Schnase points to multiple passages of Scripture as evidence of this calling upon Christians. In Matthew 25:25 Jesus says, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." He wanted his disciples to know that everyone should treat those they do not know just as they would treat God walking into their midst. The Jewish tradition points to the example of being strangers in Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:19) as a reason for such hospitality.
Two years ago the Reverend Adam Hamilton came to speak at the Tennessee Annual Conference on this topic. Hamilton is the founding pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan. The church is now thousands strong. While the methods of showing radical hospitality have changed somewhat as the congregation grew, the importance of it has not. Every day the church and its members are coming into contact with new people. The love and acceptance of these neighbors has enabled the thousands to find a home at the Church of the Resurrection even as it has grown to a size where one can no longer know everyone personally.
In sharing this message with the Tennessee Conference, it is hoped that the people of middle Tennessee will find a home in the local United Methodist congregations. Membership has declined locally and in the denomination as a whole, but Schnase says that in congregations practicing radical hospitality the newcomer will be soon brought into further activities and even leadership of the church. Radical hospitality includes listening to the newcomer just as one listens to the others in the pew. In this congregation, a newcomer will no longer feel like a newcomer but instead as a beloved member of the community.
Schnase challenges each group in the church, Sunday school, worship team and trustees, to consider how it may embody radical hospitality. Who may have artistic gifts to beautify the sanctuary and share the message of the sermon? How does the facility demonstrate hospitality both in the parking lot and in the nursery? These are important questions for congregations to ask.