Hospitality: Creating Space for Change to Take Place
This is gonna sound super awkward so feel free to cringe, giggle, or perhaps a little bit of both. Mamre. Imagine attending a church called Mamre. It’s ok - laugh, be confused, or allow your mind to imagine going to church on Sunday where the name evoked an uncomfortable check-up for women. I’ll explain the genius of that name in a moment, but first...
Hospitality is not a quaint idea that we pretend to pursue at Bridge City. Hospitality is our identity. In all things we try to practice Biblical hospitality for the stranger, foreigner, friend, or family in our midst. In dreaming of what BCC would be before it became Bridge City Community I had devised a list of names and logos for the future church plant in Chattanooga. I was extremely proud of this list because it embodied the entire corpus of Hipster Christianity that captured my heart at the time. (If you’re really curious to see this amazing list e-mail me and I’ll send you a PDF). One of the ideas on that list stemmed from one of my all time favorite Bible stories.
Here’s a quick summary: Moses and Sarai are doing their desert nomad thing when a particularly hot day rolls up on them. To escape the heat they set up there tents under some large oak trees at a place called… yep, you guessed it: Mamre. While chasing down some reprieve in the shade Moses sees three visitors approaching their tent and “when he saw them, he ran to meet them, and he bowed with his face touching the ground. “Please, sir,” Abraham said, “stop by to visit me for a while. Why don’t we let someone bring a little water? After you wash your feet, you can stretch out and rest under the tree. Let me bring some bread so that you can regain your strength. After that you can leave, since this is why you stopped by to visit me.” They answered, “That’s fine. Do as you say.” So Abraham hurried into the tent to find Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three measures of flour, knead it, and make bread.” Then Abraham ran to the herd and took one of his best calves. He gave it to his servant, who prepared it quickly. Abraham took cheese and milk, as well as the meat, and set these in front of them. Then he stood by them under the tree as they ate."
“In our world full of strangers, estranged from their own past, culture and country, from their neighbors, friends and family, from their deepest self and their God, we witness a painful search for a hospitable place where life can be lived without fear and where community can be found.” - Henri Nouwen
We’ve got a lot of youth and children in our church - more than adults for sure. So, it is a rare treat when a parent of one of our youth stops by one of our activities. It’s even more surprising when one of them shows up on a Sunday morning for worship. A few weeks ago we had a surprise visit from one of these parents. Junior had popped into a youth group activity over the summer and that’s where I had the first opportunity to meet him. Two of his boys are some of our most committed member which explains why I was excited to say what’s up to their dad. Setting up for church that Sunday I walked out into the hallway to grab something almost ran right into Junior. I excused myself and told him it was great to see him and that I was excited for him to join us for worship. I invited him to grab some coffee and donuts and to make himself comfortable.
Junior left. Crap, that sucks. I finally see this dude at church and I scare him off over some hospitality. Feeling rather bummed out that week I wasn’t hopeful for the following Sunday but to my joy Junior was back. He wasn’t as early as the previous Sunday and I actually avoided him until worship began - you know, so I wouldn’t freak him out again. As worship began Junior grabbed a seat on the periphery in the bleachers where no one sits with a ratty Bible in his hand. After the first song I watched him step off the bleachers into a row of chairs next to my family. During the next song he moved over and sat with some of the boys from the neighborhood.
"Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.” - Henri Nouwen
We didn’t welcome Junior under the Oaks at Mamre, but we did welcome him through the doors of a gymnasium in South Chattanooga. I believe we have created a hospitable place where the stranger feels welcome, the visitor cared for, and a place where we don’t demand change but invite it to happen.