21 August 2018
For a long time, I thought hospitality was just about having people over for dinner, or bringing scones for the weekly morning tea at church. But hospitality is more than knowing how to host a dinner party.
The following quote from the late Dutch writer and theologian Henri Nouwen sums it up for me: “Hospitality means primarily the creation of 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. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”
Hospitality provides a space for the Kingdom of God to reign. When we engage in hospitality, it creates an opportunity where we are able to recognise the injustices our neighbours face.
Hospitality provides a space to develop friendships and walk alongside people. When you invite people into your home, you open yourself up by sharing with them.
When you sit with someone in your home and they share the struggles of their life, you don’t just bid them farewell at the end of the conversation with a, “Great to chat, see you next time” as you close the front door. You are moved to action.
In the middle of hospitality, we live, love and fight alongside others as they experience hardship, and ultimately participate in God’s transforming work. Justice is mentioned in both our National Vision Statement and our Mission Values.
Justice is integral to the Gospel, and therefore the work of The Salvation Army. Yet, in order to pursue justice, we need to recognise where injustice prevails. One way we can do this is by engaging in hospitality.
When you commit to sharing life with others, you are moved when they experience hardship. As English theologian N.T Wright puts it, “Justice is what love looks like when it’s facing the problem that its neighbour is dealing with”.
In order for justice to move beyond a buzzword within The Salvation Army, we must start engaging in the messy parts of our neighbourhoods where injustice is prevalent.
Unless Salvationists are actively engaged in their neighbourhoods, “working for justice” is just another line in a corporate merger.
Hospitality requires vulnerability; it requires stepping outside of our comfort zone. Are we prepared to do this?
In their book Partnering with God, Salvation Army officers Lyn Edge and Gregory Morgan state that we are a sent people. We are not sent to the four walls of our church buildings, but to the people in our neighbourhood.
Salvationists are all called to engage in the mission of God, which is to join in God’s work to usher in the Kingdom. We are called to love and serve our neighbours. Hospitality is a practical way to live, love and fight alongside people as we all seek the Kingdom.
However, it is a position of power to always sit in the place of host. What would hospitality look like in your life if you were to enter the space of your neighbours?
Hospitality allows for mutual transformation; it provides opportunities for us to learn and teach, provide and receive, but requires that we place ourselves in the role of guest as well as host. It is during this process that the Kingdom of God is revealed and we are sharing our humanity.
I moved into my neighbourhood five years ago with the intention to be present to the community and its needs. It has been a messy process of mistakes, learning and trialling new things.
Here are a few things I have learnt along the way:
• Allocate one meal, or day, each week for intentional hospitality.
• Be open to God teaching you – I have been changed more than I have changed my community. I expected that I would be helping and teaching in the neighbourhood, but God has taken this time and used my neighbours and community to teach me.
• Hospitality still requires “rules” and does not mean you give up all your space. There is an expectation then when people enter our house they still respect the people and the things in it.
The command to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God is a theme embedded throughout the Bible. How is God asking you to seek justice? In what ways may God be prompting you to create spaces for hospitality? How can you be a representative of Jesus in the places most impacted by hardship and injustice?
Amanda Merrett is Assistant to the Social Justice Secretary, Australia Southern Territory.