Seriously Considering Hospitality

Let’s begin with an article from The Anglican Journal (shared with permission).  Then please read on for some additional observations.  — Thanks, Scott+

“What Matters Most”

By Andrew Stephens-Rennie on August, 01 2013

I was in the parish parking lot, closing the trunk of my car, about to head into the church. Suddenly a voice rang crystal-clear: “You can’t park here.”

No greeting. No inquiry as to whether I needed help, or was, perhaps, lost. Even as I headed over to explain that I was there for a diocesan-sponsored workshop, it was made abundantly clear that my presence was a nuisance.

During the workshop, as we discussed ways of engaging with marginalized youth, it struck me as ironic (if somehow appropriate) that my day had begun with an experience of exclusion at the hands of the church.

Our discussion was facilitated by British educator Pip Wilson, who reminded us again and again that when working with youth wounded by their home community, “We can see their behaviour, but we can’t see their journey.” It isn’t until we listen to another’s story that we can begin to understand their actions.

I wonder what journey the parish staff were on, to have acted the way they did that morning?

We watched a short film exploring the realities of gang life and a young gang member shared something that resonated with my earlier parking lot experience. Speaking of those drawn into a life of crime, he said, “If they find their family excludes them, they’ll find a new family.”

In short, they’ll leave the place where they have experienced indifference or rejection to find a place of belonging.

How many young people, I wondered, have found themselves excluded by the church and have left to find another place to belong?

As our church continues to seek to do God’s work together, emphasizing values such as nimbleness and flexibility, we must first wrestle with this question. We may become nimble and flexible, but what good will come of these changes if we are a church of exclusion rather than embrace?

This is why the Marks of Mission* are so important to me. Without an outward focus, rooted in the gospel of Christ, we will perish. And yet, if we take up the mantle and throw ourselves fully into God’s mission, we will become the people that God calls us to be.

Andrew Stephens-Rennie is a member of the national youth initiatives team of the Anglican Church of Canada. Reprinted with permission.  See more at:

 *Marks of Mission  

  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  • To teach, baptise and nurture new believers 
  • To respond to human need by loving service 
  • To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

Greetings to the Cathedral Community and beyond:

Our good friend and colleague, Chris Hooker, posted a link to the above article  on her Facebook page. Now, you have to know that she simply does not post innocuous things, so I figured it was worth my time to follow the link. I was not let down, though I was “stirred up” by what I read.

Mr. Stephens-Rennie’s article is short but important. Its importance rests on several threads that make an important rope. First, he is sharing his experience about being a newcomer (albeit with a purpose) in a new place. It begs me to ask the constant question, “How are we (How am I) welcoming each and every person that encounters the Cathedral?” I only get one chance to do it the first time. In this case the author’s initial encounter was not gracious. Thankfully, he’s is already engaged and committed to the Church, so he will see this as a chance to address a problem and seek improvement.

Second, to my mind, is how we engage people at the deeper level of valuing them while respecting others. In the author’s situation this involves a parking space. Now, maybe he parked where he should not have parked: a no parking area or in someone’s assigned space, or a handicap access space. Respecting handicap spaces and assigned spaces is a way of respecting others. Don’t we have to treat this as an unintentional action, even if we are not so sure that’s the case?

Any of these parking scenarios could happen quite easily here at the Cathedral. It is fine for someone to address that, but how it is addressed is another of the legs of importance. Instead of “You can’t park here!” the approach could have been, should have been, must have been, more gracious. “Pardon me, we really need for you to park in this area.” “Welcome to the Cathedral. I’m sorry about the inconvenience, but I have to ask you to move your car. Let me show you where.”

The third thread of importance for me is that he is engaged in, and reflecting upon, how we reach marginalized youth. I’m willing to make that youth, period. Young people often have a highly developed “sixth sense” about being welcomed. They will sometimes put up with a lot in order to connect with friends, colleagues, a peer group, etc. But, in my experience, they won’t forget how they were treated and what they had to put up with. They may forgive it, but they will remember it. And, they very quickly assess the cost vs. the benefit. “Do I want to put up with this treatment for an unknown experience that follows?” is the assessment that will be made.

Every one of these threads, the welcome and how we communicate, regardless of age, and our invitation of and inclusion of people, youth or otherwise, are critical. We now exist as a Church in the midst of largely unchurched people. Assumptions and expectations that worked in the past will not serve us well today or tomorrow. Abraham and Sarah welcomed the strangers who emerged from the woods at Mamre with an invitation to sit, offered them refreshment and spread before them a feast. The bar has been set for us. Your thoughts?